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“Are we next?”
A poster sign in a gathering of about 200 students in front of Englewood High School asked that question during a walkout March 14, one month after 17 students and staff were killed in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Students including those at Englewood Middle School and Englewood Leadership Academy — middle schools housed on the same campus as EHS — organized walkouts to honor the victims and to speak out about gun violence.
At 10 a.m., a crowd of high-school students rolled out on South Logan Street at the edge of campus to sit and stand for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 victims in Florida.
On the other side of school grounds, middle schoolers gathered in a walkout that focused not on protesting gun violence, but honoring the victims, student organizers said.
EHS students took a more pointed tone, with one poster sign criticizing some of Colorado's congressional lawmakers by name for support they've received from the National Rifle Association, or NRA, an organization that advocates against gun regulation.
One student began a chant of, “Power to the people!” near the beginning, but another student reminded him the group was to be silent.
Aside from the low rumble of chatter among some in the crowd, several students focused on holding up signs with messages like, “Protect your kids, not your guns,” “Enough is enough” and “18th century laws cannot regulate 21st century weapons.” One opposed the oft-repeated phrase that “Guns don't kill people.”
Several motorists passing by honked in support and gave thumbs-up signs.
“Thank you for being out here,” one woman said as she walked by, holding up a fist.
The walkouts came amid a nationwide school-walkout effort March 14 that was organized with the help of several activist groups, including the Women's March movement. Several Denver metro-area schools held walkouts on that day. More than 3,100 walkouts were planned across the United States and in other countries, including some planned for other dates, according to the Women's March website.
Students in Englewood's middle-school student councils took the lead in organizing their walkout, and EHS' came out of word-of-mouth among students. Students at Colorado's Finest High School of Choice in Englewood also planned a walkout to ring bells in honor of the victims in Florida, said Julie McMorris, spokeswoman for the school district.
Days before the walkouts, middle schoolers made it clear they planned the walkout to honor the victims, rather than to advocate for gun policies.
“We're gonna stand for people who have been affected, (and) the whole country's been affected,” said Dylan Hoover, a seventh-grader on ELA's Delta Force, the school's student council. We're showing “that they're not alone, that we're gonna help them build up and be stronger about this subject.”
Maven Theibault, an eighth-grader on the council with Hoover, said her mother was a student at Columbine High School during the 1999 shooting there.
“I wonder if it happened to our school, how it would be different” from others, Theibault said, reflecting on how her mother described the Columbine incident. “It's weird to hear all those different things and know it could happen at your school.”
Several students on the middle-school councils described feeling shocked, surprised and upset when they heard about the shooting in Parkland — on what started out as a normal day.
“Parkland, it really changed my view,” said Emma Heidrick, an eighth-grader at EMS. This “can happen anywhere, at any time. And that just really opened up my eyes to what's really going on in the world.”
Some middle schoolers said factors like background checks and mental health should be tackled, rather than focusing on guns.
"I feel like it's not really that it's a gun issue, but more of a society issue more than anything because if we were more accepting and took more care of people, this wouldn't happen so much," Heidrick said, adding that mental-health issues are to blame. "I don't think we need more gun regulations, but different regulations, mental-health regulations. Some people just shouldn't own guns if they can't use (them) correctly."
The problem requires a bigger push against bullying, said Joshua Crow, eighth-grader on council at EMS.
"It's not the gun — it's the person who pulls the trigger," Crow said. I "feel bullying is the main factor (in) it."
Crow said more therapy related to bullying could help, while Hoover suggested stronger background checks for people who have mental illnesses.
The atmosphere at the three-school campus has been influenced by recent gun-related and other reported threats, in addition to the Parkland incident. In the days after the Feb. 14 Florida shooting, multiple reports connected to a rumor of a person threatening to bring a gun to school arose at Englewood Middle School and EHS. The reports stemmed from one noncredible rumor, school-district officials said. All Englewood schools had extra security on Feb. 22.
Englewood police recovered a gun from Colorado's Finest School of Choice and took a student into custody Feb. 7, a day that saw that school go into lockdown. A threat of violence was also reported at EHS that day, but police determined there was no threat. An EHS student also turned himself in to police Jan. 3 on suspicion of making “significant threats” toward the school, police said.
Hoover was on a bus to Clayton Elementary School and had his bus route redirected when the Colorado's Finest incident was underway.
“It kinda shocked me,” Hoover said, because “it could have turned out really bad.
“I'm happy nothing happened that could kill anyone,” Hoover said.
The shooting in Parkland "changed the climate" at school, said Jenavieve Jones, eighth-grader on council at EMS.
"I remember coming to school the next day — it felt different, the mood, the tone," Jones said. "I don't see as much bullying, per se, and I see a lot of groups coming together."
It's a positive out of the negative, Jones said. "It just sucks it had to happen this way."
The students expressed appreciation for the schools' notifications and transparency to parents about threats or incidents, as well as praise for school-security personnel and relationships with teachers.
“I've always felt safe at school,” Heidrick said.
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