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NH students join national gun violence walkout on 19th anniversary of Columbine shooting

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 20. 2018 11:06PM
Manchester Central students gather for a vigil at the school's courtyard on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Students streamed out of classrooms at Manchester High School Central and high schools across the country to rally against gun violence on Friday, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.

At Central, Friday marked the first time students walked out of classes to protest gun violence; an earlier effort fizzled following pushback from administrators, according to several student activists.

Students rallied in the courtyard. Teachers stayed in classrooms and classes officially remained in session during the half-hour demonstration.

Police and teachers prevented reporters, relatives of students and onlookers from entering the courtyard.

“I’m speaking on behalf of the immigrants who fled their country because of gun violence to come to America to be safe. But instead they are here still dealing with gun violence and a need for safety,” said Central student Kesha Chanel, one of the speakers.

At Trinity High School, most of the school’s 300 students attended a prayer service outside the school. Thirty metal folding chairs bore the name and age of each of the victims at Columbine and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High Schoolin Parkland, Fla.

Students created a memorial outside of Trinity High School in Manchester to mark the anniversary of the Columbine shooting. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

The service included a student or faculty member placing a carnation on each chair.

“We didn’t want to make it a political thing,” said Daniel Baillargeon, interim principal. “We asked the students, and they wanted to remember them.”

Since the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, high school students across the nation have rallied against school shootings and demanded more restrictive gun laws.

New Hampshire Firearms Coalition President Alan Rice said part of the problem is gun-free school zones. 

“A person contemplating mass murder always seems to gravitate toward a gun-free zone where no one can deter him,” Rice said. 

More than 2,600 events were planned for National School Walkout, an effort spearheaded by Lane Murdock, a 16-year-old sophomore from Ridgefield, Conn.

Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., has not held class on April 20 since the massacre, Reuters reported.

Manchester Central students gather for a vigil at the school’s courtyard on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

“The children of this nation are angry, and we demand more than ‘thoughts and prayers’ tweets,” a survivor of the Parkland shooting, Amy Luo, told a crowd of about 400 student protesters gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Another rally was held in front of the White House. Students also protested at the State House in Concord. 

In Manchester, organized student walkouts were held at Manchester Memorial High School and Manchester High School West on March 14. 

Central students tried to organize a walkout on the same day, but students connected with Youth Organizers United said student efforts met with resistance.

School officials threatened to suspend students and school staff blocked doorways, said Ange Nish, a member of the Youth Organizers group.

She and fellow students wore shirts with the slogan “Protect Students, Not Guns.” The shirts also included the image of a man with his hands up and the words “Don’t Shoot,” a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Nish and her friends said students were hesitant to leave classes on Friday, but once one got up to leave most followed.

Sophia Ferro, the senior class president, said students worked out details with Principal John Vaccarezza and Vice Principal Jane Clayton, but the students insisted the rally was student run.

Hundreds of students filled one end of the courtyard. No teachers or school staff addressed the crowd. Student speakers stood on a staircase landing. Seventeen students gave brief descriptions of the victims at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas. A few made brief remarks. 

“Our leaders should applaud the fact that you have a new generation that is ready to make the changes that the current generation has not,” said Central student Lily O’Connell.

Ferro gathered letters from fellow students, which they planned to attach to the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

Manchester Central students gather for a vigil at the school's courtyard on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

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