Demanding change and promising their generation would make it happen, students walked out of schools across South Florida and the country on Wednesday — one month after 17 students and teachers died in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
The students said they were determined to see stricter regulations on guns to prevent mass shootings, along with the gun violence that takes lives individually and without the massive media attention that mass shootings receive.
Stoneman Douglas’ 3,200 students gathered on the football field. They were met with cheers from parents and local residents who lined the adjacent street.
Last week, Gov. Rick Scott signed a $400-million bill that increases school safety measures but also places restrictions on gun ownership, including raising the minimum age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21. The Stoneman Douglas students and their #NeverAgain movement are largely credited with pushing through that rare gun control legislation in Florida.
“That never would have been signed if it wasn’t for the fact that the students got going,” said Allison Macleod, mother of a Stoneman Douglas junior who was in the school when the shooting happened. “But let’s not forget — the bigger picture is still yet to come.”
Macleod was pointing to the movement’s March 24 walk on Washington D.C. Stoneman Douglas senior Kevin Trejos, 18, said he plans to take part. He was one of a handful of students who left school grounds after the walkout. He said the event was meant mainly to honor the victims of the shooting.
“But obviously the political message is still behind it," Trejos said. "At least in Florida we got a pretty good bill passed. We’re hoping that Congress can pass an even stronger bill.”
Most in Parkland said they want to keep the pressure on, since the National Rifle Association is already challenging the new Florida law.
'We will make it happen'
Leonor Muñoz, 17, said she and her fellow students hope the walkouts convey the message — and determination — of the Parkland students and their allies to change gun regulations and prevent any more mass shootings in the country.
“If people think that it’s going to blow over, they’re sorely mistaken. Because we will make it happen whether it’s now, whether it’s in a couple weeks, whether it’s in a couple months, whether it’s in several years,” she said. “Whether we have to be the politicians in office who are making this happen. It will happen.”
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students are still processing the horror of what they went through and where to go from there.
— Katie Lepri (@katielepri) March 14, 2018
Ramis Hashmi, 16, is a junior at the school. He’d been out sick Monday and Tuesday that week, but returned to school on Wednesday, Feb. 14.
They had one fire drill in the morning and then in the afternoon the alarm went off again. Outside, Hashmi heard a shot.
“I thought, ‘Oh, this is one of those fake active shooter drills.' But then I heard another shot and I was like, ‘No, that’s not a drill.’ Then these people ran into our crowd crying.” Police officers appeared and told the students to get off campus, away from the school.
“They wouldn’t tell us to leave if it was fake,” he said.
Returning to school, Hashmi said he and his friends are always aware of the absence of their friends and teachers.
He was used to seeing his fellow junior Helena Ramsey on campus when their schedules overlapped. On the first day back, he looked for her out of habit.
“Helena wasn’t there,” he said. “It felt empty."
At William H. Turner Technical Arts High School in Miami-Dade County, students walked out of class and into a fenced area outside of the school auditorium.
Reporters were not allowed inside, but some of the passionate speeches were audible from the sidewalk.
One student talked about how dozens of Miami-Dade County Public School students have been killed or injured by gun violence in their neighborhoods.
Josh Toombs is a senior at the school. He waved over a reporter to talk through the chainlink fence.
He said he stands with students at Stoneman Douglas and had this message for the public about what the day symbolizes for him:
“I want y’all to know it’s not just for the people at Stoneman Douglas High School. It’s for those kids walking after school that get shot. Little boys outside getting shot by stray bullets and stuff, that’s what this is about; it’s not just mass shootings.”
Josh and his friend made this poster explaining guns should be regulated like cars. pic.twitter.com/eykSZuWXUw
— Nadege C. Green (@NadegeGreen) March 14, 2018
Josh said the students at Turner Tech were told they didn’t have to wear their school uniforms on Wednesday. Instead, those who lost family members or friends to gun violence could wear Rest In Peace Memorial shirts.
There were several of those in the crowd.
There were at least six police officers around the perimeter of the school. Miami-Dade has said students can't walk off campus. That’s in direct contradiction to the ACLU, which maintains it their right if they want to and they actually should not be stopped from doing so.
Dozens of student from Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach spilled into the streets, walking off campus. They walked to Northeast High School, where students at first were not being allowed to leave campus.
Florisa Moulton, 18, a senior at Ely, said she and the other protesters were chanting and rallying for their peers to be let out.
Some of the students at Northeast, in direct defiance of their school administrators, started jumping fences to join the protest.
"We rallied out here until they finally opened the gates and let students out," said Moulton, adding, "We will demand for our voices to be heard and we will not stop until it's done."
Students at Blanche Ely High in Pompano heard their peers at nearby Northeast High were not being allowed off campus to protest.
— Nadege C. Green (@NadegeGreen) March 14, 2018
At Suncoast High School in Riviera Beach, there were booths where students could register — or pre-register — to vote, buy t-shirts to benefit Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and learn how to engage in political action, like writing to members of Congress.
Principal Karen Whetsell called it “one of the most amazing events I think I’ve ever seen in my 20-plus years as a school administrator.”
She said the school organized the event “to be able to pay respect to the students that lost their lives in Parkland. And also to begin to set policy and a movement that these kids will be able to carry forward for years to come — to be able to end gun violence in schools and everywhere.”
She said the students will not be in trouble for walking out of class for the event.
“I re-arranged the whole schedule for them today,” she said. “They have their 34 minutes, from start to finish.”
.@SuncoastHighFL Chargers pre-registering their HS schoolmates to vote in #RivieraBeach, #Florida. Had about 60 by 11 a.m. #NationalWalkoutDay #nationalwalkout @WLRN #parkland #stonemandouglas @npr pic.twitter.com/yN0RZ5TgiI
— Peter Haden (@HadenMedia) March 14, 2018
Valerie Davis is an art teacher from Easton, Pa. She made portraits of each of the people who died in the shooting and flew down to South Florida to present them to the families.
Pat Wheeler Gibson traveled with her sister from Eastern Pennsylvania to to Parkland, FL, with her sister to support the students in the walkout and gift the families portraits of those who lost their lives in the shooting.Credit Leslie Ovalle / WLRN NewsEdit | Remove
“I hope that the pictures were healing to them, because that’s what I did them for,” she said.
She was at the walkout at Marjory Stoneman Douglas on Wednesday.
“These kids are amazing,” she said. “The kids are going to be cleaning up our mess, and we need to stop making a mess.”
She was flying back home Wednesday afternoon but said she would carry the experience she had in South Florida with her.
“As an educator myself, I can’t even begin to understand what these family members are going through,” she said. “We have to pray for these students now. The rest of them have to walk into that school every day. Every time they hear a fire drill, every time they hear a book drop, every time they hear a pencil drop, it’s going to startle them. We have to pray for their strength.”
Around 40 students from Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart marched to Miami City Hall. Olen Kalkus, the school’s headmaster, said the march wasn’t school sponsored, but that the students who participated would not be penalized as long as they had parent permission.
“The girls who are marching down to City Hall are doing that of their own volition and interest,” he said.
Even with the distance between Carrollton and Stoneman Douglas, some of them had friends who attended the school.
The students marched down Coconut Grove’s Main Highway chanting “Enough is enough.” Their goal was to have elected officials hear their voices and really go through with enacting policies that will lead to effective gun control.
“It really opened my eyes because it was in Florida and even though it’s kind of far away it’s still really close,” said Amber Johnson, 16, one of the students who helped organize the march. “I don’t think people should be able to have those types of weapons. I feel that we should be able to feel safe in our school without being scared that someone’s going to come in and shoot us at any moment in time.”
Farther south in Miami-Dade, students at Gulliver Preparatory School gathered on the school's football field -named after alumnus Sean Taylor, NFL player and also a member of the University of Miami Hurricanes football team, who died after being shot by an intruder in his Miami home in 2007. Students lined forming the letters MSD and a heart, as a sign of their solidarity with the Stoneman Douglas High students, 50 miles up north.