A 43-foot plywood temple has served as a place for healing for the past three months since the first anniversary of the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
On Sunday night, hundreds gathered to watch it burn.
Artist David Best built the Temple of Time in an empty lot just minutes away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman opened fire and killed 17 people on February 14, 2018.
Since its inception, the goal was to burn the temple, those involved said – not as an act of destruction but as a way of bringing people together to heal.
“I urge you all to let go of something,” Coral Springs Mayor Scott Brook said. “And like the smoke of the temple, please release it into the night sky.”
What the temple stood for
Sunday’s event drew large crowds to the former site of Coral Springs’ city hall, where the temple was built.
People sat in lawn chairs waiting for the ceremony to begin. Some climbed on trees to catch an unobstructed view above the crowd. Others filled the street outside the lot as firefighters filled the temple with hay in preparation for the burn.
The Temple of Time, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, is among five large-scale art installations being displayed in Coral Springs and Parkland over two years. The projects are an extension of an art therapy program that has turned the Coral Springs Museum of Art into a space that has helped children and educators cope since the shooting.
Best also built two of the four benches surrounding the temple. They will be given to the families of victims Nicholas Dworet and Helena Ramsay. The others will be on display in Coral Springs and Parkland, city officials said.
Best has built similar wooden temples at the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
He built the secular structure in Coral Springs to give people a place to address their pain and grief, he said. Like his past pieces, he created it with the intention of eventually burning it.
“It’s about healing and forgiveness,” Best said.
With the help of the community, Best and his team worked around the clock for two weeks to finish the temple on time for the first anniversary of the shooting. Since then, many have visited to inscribe messages on the temple walls and pay tribute to the victims.
“To those that cannot fight beside us, we will demolish this epidemic of hate and will harness your beautiful and strong energy to do so. To never be forgotten is to live forever. Love, MSD Class of 2013,” a note reads.
Matthew Aguilar, a graduating senior at Stoneman Douglas, walked through the temple one last time last week to write a note on a small piece of wood. He left it among the hundreds of handwritten notes, photos, teddy bears and flowers draping over the structure.
“Love is what matters. It’s what is important. And it’s all that we need. Please share love,” he wrote.
The 18-year-old was a junior when the shooting happened and some of the victims were his friends.
“It was nice to have it (the temple) here to comfort us and to share what we feel and how we feel about our friends and family,” he said.
How it came down
Dworet, 17, was a senior at Stoneman Douglas and was known as a swimmer. Montalto, 14, was also a student and was on the winter guard team. Hixon, 49, was the school’s athletic director.
One by one, each group of participants approached the temple with a burning wooden pole and used it to set fire to the bottom of the temple.
Within minutes, the flames grew, casting heat into the audience. The light from the flames was reflected on the faces in the crowd. Some people cried, others stared in awe. Above the crowd, a sea of iPhones captured the spectacle.
People moved across the lot to escape embers flying through the air. Firefighters sprayed water through hoses to contain the fire. Within 30 minutes of starting, the fire was out.
Andrea Venkatesan, 30, said she found the burn cathartic.
“It’s good to be out and come together in the community to really share in our pain and our rage to channel (it) into something constructive,” she said.
Cat Gloria reported from Coral Springs Florida. Emanuella Grinberg and Nicole Chavez wrote this story in Atlanta.