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CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) — A wooden temple built as a memorial to the 17 victims of a Florida high school mass shooting was set ablaze Sunday in a symbolic gesture of healing.
The "Temple of Time" public art installation was set afire at a ceremony hosted by the cities of Parkland and Coral Springs, where Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students live.
The families of several Parkland victims attended the ritual burning of the 35-foot (10-meter) tall temple. Described as "therapeutic" by some, the ceremonial fire was supposed to symbolize the release of pain still left inside.
Firefighters surrounded the structure as 17 people lit it up the center of the temple with torches. It took a few minutes for the fire to spread to the roof, suddenly engulfing the temple's needle with giant flames as black smoke billowed up into the sky.
The timing was impeccable. The lacelike designs allowed the flames to spread evenly across the wooden structure, making it glow orange for a few minutes as the sky darkened. The temple did not burn to the ground as predicted.
Friends and loved ones had been leaving notes, photos and mementos inside the temple to honor the victims of the mass shooting since it was built in February.
"It's kind of sad today because this temple has meant so much to so many," said Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky. "The beauty of the temple is not the beautiful structure. It's the people who were brought together, the messages, the love, the hope that was shared, and the resilience that has been shown by this community."
San Francisco-area artist David Best created the 1,600-square-foot (150-square-meter) Asian design with a spire roof. Most construction materials and other expenses were paid by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's foundation.
A lone gunman's attack killed 17 students and staffers and injured 17 others on Feb. 14, 2018.
Best and his team of volunteers and community helpers built the structure as the communities commemorated the anniversary of the mass shooting last February.
On Sunday, Best said he worried about students and others suffering in silence. He urged the community to protect one another to prevent more suicides, an apparent reference to the cases of two student survivors who committed suicide earlier this year.
"Let's watch out for one another," Best said. "This is a community that went through hell."
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