‘It has to be perfect’: Putting out a yearbook after the Parkland shooting

Moments after that terrible Valentine’s Day, the thought crept into the minds of the Aerie yearbook staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They would have to memorialize this tragedy in their pages. Somehow.

At first, some students hesitated. “I thought it’d be too much,” said Elizabeth Stout, 17, a senior who is the book’s co-editor in chief, of the staff’s offer to write about the students killed. “I didn’t know at the time if it’d even be right to.”

Few students who have survived mass shootings in schools have faced the same dilemma. The children at Sandy Hook were too young. Those at Columbine were too far along in the school year.

At Stoneman Douglas High, where a former student is accused of killing 17 people in a deadly rampage, editors decided the shooting would not overtake their book. They insisted on preserving a record of the days that came before, the ones filled with the regular markers of high school life: Football games. Club activities. The Sadie Hawkins dance.

But they also knew their classmates would keep their book for decades, lugging it with them from dorm rooms to first apartments and showing it to their own children, who would ask about the shooting at Parkland and the lives that had been lost. The book would have to tell that story, too.

For several days in the aftermath, the staff allowed the New York Times to follow the group of 37 editors, designers, writers and photographers as they pulled together the book — choosing the photographs and laying out the pages and making the painstaking decisions on how to best honor the students and staff who had died. The 452-page book is scheduled to be published in May and distributed to more than 2,500 people.

“This,” Elizabeth said, “has to be remembered for the rest of our lives.”

Cramped inside a makeshift yearbook computer lab, Sarah Lerner, 37, the students’ adviser, prodded the photo editor, Rain Valladares, 17, to pick images for the two-page spread that would show the school’s last moments of normalcy before the Feb. 14 shooting.

The publisher of the book, which is named for an eagle’s nest — a reference to the school mascot — had waived the March 9 deadline. A yearbook adviser in Texas had created a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $47,000 for the Aerie and The Eagle Eye, the student newspaper.

Sitting in the lab, its walls filled with calendars and lists of deadlines and a copy of the First Amendment, Rain, a junior, said she had found Valentine’s Day photos on her camera when she recovered her belongings on campus, 12 days after the massacre. But she fretted that she had not taken enough that morning.

“I didn’t think I was the only one taking pictures!” she said.

The photos show Rain’s friends, some of them clad in festive red, buying carnations at lunchtime, beaming and joking in an outdoor courtyard. When Natasha Martinez, a 17-year-old junior and yearbook photographer, first saw herself smiling in one photo, holding a pink, heart-shaped balloon, she started to cry.

“I remembered how I felt that morning,” Natasha said. “I was on my way to fourth period, Spanish, and I was like, ‘Rain!’ It made me really emotional.”

Rain and the staff selected four photographs and set them on the page.

The book is organized in chronological order. After Valentine’s Day, the staff added seven new spreads, including one page for each of the dead.

For the staff, creating those memorial pages for each of the victims felt personal. Elizabeth assigned herself the page for Carmen Schentrup, 16, who was killed a few feet from her in their Advanced Placement psychology class. Kyra Parrow, a senior and also co-editor in chief and photo editor, knew another one of the victims, Joaquin Oliver, 17. Isabel Chequer, a 16-year-old junior and photographer, was herself injured, bullets grazing her arm and foot.

“Being in journalism, it’s something that you have to talk about,” Aly Sheehy, an 18-year-old senior and captions editor, said of the shooting. “It’s very therapeutic. It gives us something to do.”

Several staff members, and Lerner, the adviser, have been seeing counselors. “Words can’t describe what it was,” Isabel said of that day.

Designers toggled back and forth between new layouts featuring classmates with their hair dyed blond in memory of Joaquin, or blue in memory of Carmen. Another spread displayed student tattoos commemorating the dead.

Taylor Ferrante-Markham, 16, a junior on the design staff, got “Love 17” on her left wrist. Elizabeth opted for a heart with “Seventeen” written in script on her rib cage. On the back of her arm, Aly wants 17 stars outlining the constellation Hercules.

“Because it means strength,” she said.

For the yearbook students, the reminders of the day were everywhere. The glass window in the door to the yearbook lab, the same kind of window that the gunman shattered with his bullets in the freshman building, was still covered with brown construction paper, to keep a potential gunman from being able to see if students were inside. Aly had cut out a rectangular flap to serve as a peephole. Knocks made some students flinch.

Even as they continued to work on the pages, some students were still figuring out how to talk about what happened. Elizabeth preferred to refer to Feb. 14, or to simply call it “the event.”

“I hate calling it ‘the shooting,’ ” she said. “It just feels really insensitive. I just feel like it’s so brutal. Just, harsh.”

Three hours into an afternoon work session, Taylor leaned back in her chair. “I live in the yearbook room,” she declared. “My hair is crazy. My stomach is growling. Yet I am here.”

“It has to be perfect,” Aly said.

Teen who saved others leaves hospital

PARKLAND — A student credited with saving his classmates’ lives by using his body to block a door during the school shooting that killed 17 has left the hospital.

The Sun Sentinel reports that 15-year-old Anthony Borges was released Wednesday morning from Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale after nine surgeries.

Anthony was shot five times during the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Among the most seriously wounded survivors, Anthony was previously released from the hospital but had to return because of a possible abdominal infection and ulcer in his small intestine. He also lost part of a lung. He emigrated from Venezuela three years ago.