Quietly, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School spilled out of their classrooms in the middle of second period Wednesday morning.
It was not until more than a thousand filled the football field — just 500 feet from where a gunman shot and killed 14 students and three instructors a month ago — that they burst into loud chants of “MSD! MSD!”
The students were among the thousands of teenagers at schools across the country who walked out of class to protest gun violence and mark one month since the Feb. 14 mass shooting at the Parkland, Fla., school.
Many students left class at 10 a.m. local time Wednesday for 17 minutes — one minute for each victim.
In Washington, D.C., students held signs and marched outside the White House. In Ohio, students headed to the statehouse to lobby for new gun regulations. In Springfield, Mass., they gathered outside the headquarters of the gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson.
The suspect in the Florida massacre, 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz, on Wednesday remained silent in court, leading a judge to enter a not-guilty plea on his behalf on 34 counts related to the killings.
In Parkland, the day of protest against gun violence also was an opportunity for students to gather together to mourn long-standing childhood friends, classmates and coaches who waved at them across hallways.
There were no chants as students, dressed in burgundy school colors, walked through the sprawling campus of white buildings — past a statue of their Eagle mascot — to the middle of the football field. Only a few carried placards.
As a helicopter and drone buzzed overhead, scores of locals joined TV camera crews, photographers and reporters looking on through a chain-link fence covered in banners of support from the community.
“We’re with you!” and "We love you!" onlookers yelled from the sidewalk.
A piano ballad called “Shine,” written by two drama students after the shooting, boomed over the loudspeakers.
Then Principal Ty Thompson called for everyone to come together at the 50-yard line to form “the biggest group hug we can think of.”
The crowd cheered as hundreds of students burst out of Westglades Middle School next door and marched past the football field, chanting, “Secure our schools.” The middle schoolers had been threatened with two-day suspensions, but walked out of their campus anyway.
“What do we want? Gun control!” they yelled. “When do we want it? Now!”
Skylar Pax, 14, a Westglades student, skipped along Holmberg Road with a trio of classmates.
“Kids this young shouldn’t be scared to go to school,” she said.
Within minutes, the high schoolers joined them out on Pine Island Road.
Payton Price, a 15-year-old sophomore, had not planned to leave Stoneman Douglas after the 17-minute walkout onto the football field. She was going to go back to her second-period Spanish class — until she saw the middle schoolers.
“We’re making a change,” Payton said after she followed hundreds of fellow high schoolers out the red entrance gates — even as school administrators warned them they wouldn’t be allowed back that day if they left campus.
“We’re not going to let this ever happen again,” she said.
The middle schoolers and the high schoolers merged. As cars honked encouragement, they began trekking 2 miles to Pine Trails Park.
Along the way, many students called anxious parents and relatives.
“It’s all right, Mum. I love you,” John Smithen, a 16-year-old freshman, assured his worried mom, who had not known he planned to walk out. “I’ll be OK walking home.”
Organized by the youth branch of the Women's March, called Empower, the National School Walkout urged Congress to take meaningful action on gun violence and pass federal legislation that would ban assault weapons and require universal background checks for gun sales.
With walkouts planned across the country — at elementary schools, high schools and universities — organizers published a “tool kit” online that offered students tips on how to organize, get support from parents and guardians and share information on social media.
At Pine Trails Park, some students sat down next to the amphitheater to observe 17 minutes of silence and listen to students who got up to a microphone to make speeches.
Sophomore Tanzil Philip, 16, led students in a chant.
“What do we want?” he shouted.
"Gun control now!" they yelled back
Susana Matta Valdivieso, a 17-year-old junior who had organized the rally, shouted to a small gaggle of onlookers and a crew of media cameras.
Susana said the teenagers would not give up and would vote when they were old enough to make things better.
As TV cameras swarmed around the speakers, most students huddled around makeshift memorials to those who died in the shooting last month — where a white cross for each of the 17 victims was planted on a field surrounded by candles, bouquets of flowers, soft toys and balloons.
Some wrote notes and cried. Others scrolled through smartphones, shared cookies, sipped soda, offered hugs and chatted about everything from stuffed animals to school shootings elsewhere.
Dara Jaffe, a 15-year-old freshman, made a beeline for a memorial to her friend, 14-year-old Gina Montalto, sitting for an hour in front of a shrine featuring Oreo and Skittles pillows, stuffed pandas and a box of tissues.
“I’m outraged, mad and angry,” she said. “There hasn’t been much change, and it’s not the change we want. Arming teachers? How am I supposed to focus in class when a teacher has a gun?”
Nearby, a student sat cross-legged on the grass in front of a cross honoring her friend, Martin Duque Anguiano, a 14-year-old freshman.
“I love you forever Martin,” she scrawled in a lined notebook as another classmate wiped away tears. “You’re always in my heart, kiddo,” she added, punctuating the sentence with an image of a heart.