Survivors of one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history took to the Florida state Capitol on Wednesday with a clear message: We will not be silenced.
As hundreds of students, teachers and gun reform advocates gathered outside the legislative building in Tallahassee, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland continued to push for tougher gun laws in Florida and on a federal level. Many carried signs reading “#NeverAgain.” Students also participated in what was billed as a “listening session” at the White House with President Trump.
Alfonso Calderon, a 16-year-old junior at the Broward County school where 17 people were killed one week ago, said adults should not dismiss the student protesters because of their age.
“Trust me, I understand,” Calderon said in a televised news conference. “I was in a closet, locked for four hours with people who I would consider almost family, crying and weeping on me, begging for their lives. I understand what it’s like to text my parents, ‘Goodbye, I might never ever, ever get to see you again. I love you.’ I understand what it’s like to fear for your life.”
Students from at least 20 high schools across South Florida walked out of their classrooms Wednesday in support of the efforts of the Stoneman Douglas High students, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
Across the country, students spoke up. In Independence, Ky., more than 100 students gathered in front of Simon Kenton High School during their lunch period as juniors Elayne Harrington, 16, and Katelyn Neuhaus, 17, spoke to a cheering crowd.
Neuhaus pointed out that the children who died in the Parkland shooting could have been anyone in the crowd.
“Those kids in Florida are trying to bring a change, so why can’t we?” Neuhaus said. “Now everybody is talking about how this isn’t going to make a difference, about how we’re just a bunch of kids — ‘Walking around the school isn’t going to do anything’ — well, it’s doing something right now, isn’t it?”
In Silver Spring, Md., several hundred students walked out of Montgomery Blair High School carrying signs and cheering as cars honked in support of their cause.
"It's really been 19 years since the Columbine shooting and it's ridiculous how we haven't had stronger gun control legislation and I feel like it's really necessary right now, especially in the wake of another mass school shooting and I really feel like all of our lives are threatened and it shouldn't be like that because we're children," junior Nyrene Monforte told Bethesda magazine.
Students from that high school and other Washington, D.C.-area high schools went to the U.S. Capitol, where they held signs and yelled chants, including, “Your hands. Our blood.”
School administrators in Texas and Virginia, meanwhile, warned students that they would be punished if they walked out.
Curtis Rhodes, superintendent at Needville Independent School District near Houston, said in a statement posted to Needville High School’s Facebook page that students who attempted to join the day’s protests would be suspended for three days.
“Life is all about choices and every choice has a consequence whether it be positive or negative,” Rhodes wrote. “We will discipline no matter if it is one, fifty, or five hundred students involved. All will be suspended for 3 days and parent notes will not alleviate the discipline.”
Steven L. Walts, superintendent of Prince William County Public Schools in northern Virginia, told students and parents in an email Wednesday that “students who cause disruptions or leave school without authorization will face disciplinary consequences.”
Elsewhere in the country, there has been a surge in interest in gun control since the Parkland shooting.
The group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America says that since the Parkland shooting, it has had 75,000 people asking to volunteer with the organization.
Even before the shooting, Moms Demand Action had scheduled an “advocacy day” — a day for members to meet with public officials to discuss legislation. The group expected 300 people at the Georgia state Capitol in Atlanta on Wednesday to address lawmakers about a handful of gun-related bills. They were shocked when about 1,500 people showed up.
Earlier in the week, the group held a membership meeting and expected about 20. About 250 attended.
“There’s a moment happening,” said Taylor Maxwell, a spokeswoman with Moms Demand Action.