17 lives, 17 minutes: Students rally, walk out of schools to mark one month since the Parkland shooting
Students and activists in Arizona and from coast to coast spoke at rallies, walked out of schools, registered to vote and observed 17 minutes of silence for the 14 students and three teachers shot to death one month ago in Parkland, Florida.
National Walkout Day offered a connected, collective moment of anger and sorrow to urge action on gun-law reform, led by young people at the Arizona Capitol, in the nation’s capital and on school campuses across the nation.
“People say our generation is so young, so naive. But that plays to our advantage because we’re not deterred by the pessimism from the older generations,” Catherine Broski, 16, said at a rally at the Capitol in Phoenix. “We’re here to stay until something happens.”
At Venice High School in Los Angeles, students set up empty school desks on the lawn. They offered flowers and cards for those killed Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. They also set up tables so students could register to vote.
At Georgetown University near Washington, D.C., students shouted slogans and wielded signs reading “Demand Gun Reform” and “Arms are 4 Hugs.”
In Flagstaff, students stood along a busy street, with signs and moments of silence, to get motorists’ attention.
At Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, students gathered on a football field. At Brophy College Prep, a Catholic school in central Phoenix, students bowed their heads in prayer and faculty debated gun control vs. gun rights at a lunchtime forum to show openness to differing viewpoints.
At the state Capitol’s Rose Garden, students and others rallied and met with legislators and delivered a letter from March for Our Lives to Gov. Doug Ducey demanding gun control.
“We understand the importance the Second Amendment represents in our country; however, we do not believe the right to bear arms can be a hindrance to sensible and humane gun legislation,” the letter reads.
Washington-area students walk toward the White House during Wednesday's National Walkout Day to mark the mass shooting Parkland, Florida, one month before. (Photo by Kyley Schultz/Cronkite News)
Nikolas Kirk, a junior at Brophy College Prep, started the walkout on Wednesday with a speech and a prayer for gun violence victims. He said this walkout was different from those at other schools because of the Jesuit beliefs that are taught to the students. (Photo by Jenna Miller/ Cronkite News)
Washington-area students march toward the White House holding handmade signs demanding action on gun violence. (Photo by Kyley Schultz/Cronkite News)
Junior Yael Balbuena holds a photo of one of the Parkland victims during a rally at Brophy College Prep on Wednesday. The school also held a forum on gun issues. (Photo by Jenna Miller/ Cronkite News)
Freshman Mack Atencia lowers his head in prayer during a silent moment at the National Walkout Day at Brophy College Prep. (Photo by Jenna Miller/ Cronkite News)
Brophy junior Deric Hall walked out of classes Wednesday in honor of the Parkland victims. "Knowing it could happen at any time leaves some toll," he said. (Photo by Jenna Miller/ Cronkite News)
Brophy junior Charles Gbekia holds the picture of one of the Parkland victims. (Photo by Jenna Miller/ Cronkite News)
Demonstrators gather Wednesday outside the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. (Photo by Jesse Stawnyczy / Cronkite News)
Washington-area students rally in front of the White House to mark the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and demand tighter gun laws. (Photo by Kyley Schultz/Cronkite News)
Christiana Warren writes on Dawn Motly’s shirt before the demonstration at the Arizona Capitol. Both are seniors at Mountain View High School. (Photo by Jesse Stawnyczy / Cronkite News)
Danielle Sherman, a freshman at Desert Mountain High School, said she was at the Capitol rally to "make our voices heard, to enact change and hopefully get something done about gun control and regulation." (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)
Students who took part in the March for Our Lives rally at the Capitol traded poster boards for shirts, many of which included gun-related statistics. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)
South Mountain sophomore Victor Leon, 16, and Milagros Renteria, 15, print posters at the Arizona Capitol. Leon said he was at the rally to "help the community connect and help anyone else." (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)
Puente Arizona, a grassroots organization for human rights, was at the Arizona Capitol on Wednesday to demand the removal of armed resource officers on school campuses. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)
Students and members of the Arizona House of Representatives stand in prayer for the 17 students killed in the Parkland shooting a month ago. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)
Cronkite News covered student-led protests in metro Phoenix and Flagstaff, as well as on the East and West coasts. Click the location to see what happened.
About 65 high school students and others gathered at the Arizona Capitol, wearing shirts and signs with such slogans as “Protect lives, not guns” and meeting with state legislators to urge gun reform.
“People say our generation is so young, so naive but that plays to our advantage because we’re not deterred by the pessimism from the older generations,” said Catherine Broski, a 16-year-old sophomore at Millennium High School. “We’re so energized. We’re not going away.”
A mother who lost her son in the Aurora, Colorado, movie-theater shooting and an Arizona teacher were among those at the rally in the Rose Garden.
Caren Teves wore a bracelet with the name of her son, Alex Teves, who was one of 12 people killed in the 2012 Aurora shooting. Another bracelet remembered the 26 victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. A third was for the Parkland massacre.
“If after every mass shooting we made it mandatory for members of Congress to walk into those classrooms or movie theaters or churches and step over those dead bodies the way the survivors have … I bet their minds would be changed,” said Teves, a member of Moms Demand Action, a group focused on gun control legislation.
“Unfortunately, it had to affect my family before I stood up and spoke out.”
At 1:30 p.m., students and community members filled the House of Representatives Gallery.
One lawmaker read a message from a high school student who said she shouldn’t be looking for escape routes in her precalculus class; instead, she should be worried about her grades.
Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, told her colleagues the students are from the “generation of mass shootings” who “occupy a perpetual state of paranoia that the next round of thoughts and prayers” will be for them.
Blanc said the students are asking for comprehensive background checks, a ban on bump stocks and money to hire school counselors.
High school teacher Sarah Rodriguez, 24, said she didn’t know how to comfort her students when they returned to school after the Parkland shooting that killed 17. One student cried. Another asked what the plan would be if it happened at their school.
“You tell them you’d do everything you can and even if that means stepping in front of a bullet for them … and that I love them,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said her students have been asking whether they can practice active shooter drills more often, but the administration of her school, which she declined to identify, hasn’t been receptive.
Lindsay Schawelson, 18, who attends Desert Mountain High in north Scottsdale, said she “feels like a sitting duck” and is afraid of being shot during fire drills at school. That fear inspired her to speak up.
“It is so empowering. We are the youth. This is a huge movement and we’re demanding change,” Schawelson said.
Fortesa Latifi and Melina Zúñiga, Cronkite News
Members of a student advocacy group at Brophy High School lined up on both sides of a lawn packed with silent teenagers. Each club member held a poster bearing the face of a victim from the Parkland, Florida, shooting last month at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High.
“As a Catholic institution, our faith calls us to respond,” Brophy High School junior Nikolas Kirk said, just before students read the name of each Parkland victim in a prayer vigil.
The walkout, organized by students with the support of administrators, is unique in its focus on Catholic values.
At lunch, the Brophy Advocacy Club sponsored a forum so students could hear both sides of the gun control debate.
“Although we are solidly against gun violence, we do encourage civil discourse,” Brophy president Adria Renke said.
Tom Donlan, who teaches in Brophy’s religious studies department, and Mike Schwertly, a coach and physical education teacher, discussed their different views on gun ownership.
Donlan, who argued that Catholics should support stricter gun control measures, said Jesus called for peace.
“If someone says the Second Amendment is sacred, I’m inclined to think human life is sacred,” he said. “The Second Amendment? Not so sacred.”
But Schwertly said putting guns in the hands of teachers could be an effective way to prevent school shooting deaths.
“If I were allowed to carry a firearm on campus, I would,” Schwertly said. “I love this school and I would want to do what I can and am able to do to protect it.”
Alex Zoneraich, a freshman, said the forum offered a window into opposing views.
“You’re not going to solve anything by being one-minded,” he said.
Madison Stark and Faith Miller, Cronkite News
Students at Sunnyslope High School in north-central Phoenix were preparing to march for the lives of the 17 students and teachers killed a month ago in Parkland. Activists left their classrooms at 10 a.m. to go to the football field with posters and ribbons in remembrance, according to a spokeswoman.
Max Turton-Peterson, a senior at Sunnyslope, said the Parkland shootings changed the way the administration handles large gatherings.
“For example, for our assembly yesterday we weren’t allowed to bring our backpacks.” He described tension and said “people are really paranoid now.”
Administrators are “doing a lot to make sure that doesn’t happen at our school.”
Kaytlin Martino and Jake Epley, Cronkite News
The scene at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy was similar to those at schools across the country, but with a twist. Students and teachers gathered around 17 blue chairs and held a vigil for the Parkland shooting victims.
About 200 students and faculty members held signs near Fort Valley Road, a major thoroughfare near the school. Senior Ian Bogle said he is glad “people started to make a stand” against gun violence at schools.
“When the Parkland shooting happened, I was upset that it happened, but not surprised that it happened,” he said.
But, he added, hope is on the horizon.
“I think there is change. I think Arizona can change and, hopefully, other states can too,” Bogle said.
Chris McCrory, Cronkite News
About 200 students of the 2,200 enrolled at Mountain Ridge High filed onto the football field as co-organizers Rylee Tinnel, 18, and Jacob Sumner, 17, greeted them and spoke in awe about how many were walking out.
“The masses are coming,” Tinnel said excitedly as they approached and stood around signs spelling that read “Enough.”
Over the field’s speaker system, Tinnel listed the names of the 17 killed in the Stoneman Douglas High shooting. Students were allowed by the district to have about 25 minutes out of class without penalty. Tinnel also called for a moment of silence.
Before the crowd arrived, Tinnell said there had been much support for the event within the student body, but “we do have both ends of the spectrum,” adding that other peers believe the walkout is absurd.
Mountain Ridge High worked to set up a text service and a Twitter account to keep people informed:
— Ridge Walk out (@MRHSWalkout) March 14, 2018
Text @ridgewalk to 81010 to sign up for texts for more information and stay tuned to their Twitter account.
Tristan Ettleman and Amanda Slee, Cronkite News
At Palms Middle School, about 500 students – about 1 out of 3 students enrolled – walked out, far more than the 60 students organizers had expected and against the wishes of district administrators, according to organizers.
Students and teachers helped coordinate Wednesday’s walkout after a few weeks of back-and-forth with administrators. Students eventually realized they needed to take matters into their own hands if they wanted to show support for Parkland.
Rashawn Primus, a math teacher and student leadership coordinator at the school, said she teaches a curriculum that includes students knowing that they should stick up for what they believe is right.
“Nobody should ever say that 11-, 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds don’t have a voice. That they don’t matter. That what they say doesn’t matter,” Primus said. “And any person who says that should be ashamed of themselves.”
In a statement before the walkout, Vivian Ekchian, interim superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, wrote, “Students have the right to freedom of speech, and they may participate in peaceful dialogue and activities on campus, within parameters set by their administrators. We ask that parents talk to their children and encourage them not to leave campus.”
The district did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Primus and several parents said they tried to work with administrators to change the academic schedule for the day to allow students to do on-campus activities, as occurred at Venice High School. Students at Venice High wore orange and gathered on the schools front lawn, where 17 chairs were placed with the names of the Parkland victims.
Hazel Holmes, a student at Palms Middle School, said students need to do more things like the walkout. Although some students were worried they might be suspended or be otherwise disciplined for leaving class, Holmes knew it was something that she wanted to do.
“As middle-schoolers, we have a voice,” she said.
Holmes, who said she and her family will attend the March 24 national walkout in Washington, D.C., said it’s important that students write letters to legislators and Congress to add stricter gun laws.
Micah Alise Bledsoe, Cronkite News
Venice High School set up 17 chairs representing 14 student and three teachers. They also erected four tables for students: One urging them to register to vote; one to sign petitions asking for gun restrictions; one to provide flowers of condolences to the Parkland families who lost loved ones; and one to write letters to lawmakers.
Brooke DeGumbia, Cronkite News
Bright signs with #NeverAgain were scribbled in huge font. The chants of “We’re voting 2020” and cheers echoed loudly as kids gathered, high fiving and waving their fists.
That was the scene Wednesday morning in front of the White House as hundreds of kids from across the country took part in the national walkout to demand more restrictive gun laws.
The signs ranged from one calling the National Rifle Association a terrorist organization to huge boards with names of all the children who lost their lives in school shootings at Columbine High in Colorado, Sandy Hook and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Some students were dispersed toward the outer edges of the crowd, carrying megaphones and directing the long line of students who were arriving in increasingly large numbers as the minutes passed. Uniformed Secret Service officers with dogs walked through the crowds while officers from other law enforcement agencies monitored the situation.
Toward the sidewalk close to the White House, some students were hoisting others up on their shoulders for a better view, and a couple students walked in the front of the crowd with their arms waving, leading the chants.
“We need stricter gun control, we can’t keep feeling unsafe in our schools,” said Annabelle South, a sophomore from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, as she carried a sign that just read “ENOUGH.”
“I mean, you’re sitting in class and you hear a loud noise in the hallway, we’re all thinking in our mind is, ‘Where’s the nearest exit?’ ”
Other students hung toward the back of the crowd and in tight groups with friends, watching the march from a distance but still hoisting signs.
Erika Reed and Sarah Shatfield, freshmen from Walter Johnson High, said they wrote their signs together and were “beyond ready” for the march.
“We may be young but that doesn’t mean we aren’t qualified to be here,” Reed said, holding up a small sign that read, “Only thing easier to buy than a gun is a GOP candidate.” “School is a place we go to almost every day, and I don’t want to have to spend most of those days terrified of what could happen to me while I am there.”
Kyley Schultz and Philip Athey, Cronkite News
Coordinated walkouts, student rights
In some cases, school administrators have worked with student leaders.
“Student leaders at some of our high schools have worked with administrators to develop a plan for a safe and peaceful assembly for students who choose to protest,” administrators of the Deer Valley Unified School District in the northwest Valley said in a letter to students and parents. “Our goal in responding to walkout plans and other forms of peaceful assembly is to keep a focus on teaching and learning.”
Administrators at Boulder Creek warned that any protest that became disorderly or veered off campus might mean discipline for students.
“It’s important to know that disorderly conduct or leaving campus is not acceptable and it will be handled compassionately but firmly” based on policies in the student handbook, a letter to Boulder Creek parents said.
According to AZCentral, 40 Scottsdale students who participated in a protest on Feb. 27 received a one-day suspension for leaving campus.
Steve Kilner, communications director for the ACLU of Arizona, said students can be disciplined for participating in the walkout under certain conditions.
“If a student is leaving class, if it is against school policy or against the law, which it is in most places, for students to be out of class then they can be disciplined,” Kilner said.
But any school that doles out a harsher punishment than outlined in school district policies may be in violation of a student’s rights, he added.
“What a school cannot do is treat the students more harshly because they are participating in a walkout versus just having an unexcused absence,” Kilner said. He recommended students to see “what their school’s policies are with regard to an unexcused absence for a class” before participating in the walkout.
Cronkite News staff who contributed to coverage on the CN website, AZPBS broadcast and Twitter, Instagram and Facebook were Chris McCrory and Nicole Gutierrez in Flagstaff; Ariana Bustos, Shelby Lindsay, Kyley Schultz and Philip Athey in Washington, D.C; Brooke DeGumbia and Micah Alise Bledsoe in Los Angeles and, in the Valley, Gabriella Bachara, Jake Epley, Tristan Ettleman, Kade Garner, Fortesa Latifi, Katriona Martin, Kaytlin Martino, Jenna Miller, Madison Miller, Carson Mlnarik, Amanda Slee, Madison Stark, Jesse Stawnyczy, Lindsay Roberts, Alexandra Watts, Melina Zuniga.