Outside Pearl High School, a uniformed officer keeps guard as students attend class. Staff members patrol the parking lot, looking for anything suspicious.
The added security is a visible reminder of the tragedy one year ago Thursday, when 16-year-old Luke Woodham went to school, fatally shot two classmates and wounded several others. He had killed his 50-year-old mother, Mary, hours earlier.Although residents have returned to their regular routine, things are not the same in this close-knit community of 20,000 people. They are forever scarred by violence.
Students at the sprawling brick school complex observed a moment of silence for the two girls slain by Woodham: 16-year-old Christina Menefee, who once dated the boy, and 17-year-old Lydia Dew.
"I thank God every day," said Alan Westbrook Sr., whose son was seriously wounded. "That phone call will take 20 years off your life. I think of the Dews, Menefees. They don't have a daughter now. I could just have easily been in the same boat."
In June, Woodham was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Mayor Jimmy Foster said the verdict "is the one single thing that got things over with and got us together as a community."