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Granite State students join nationwide walkout in solidarity with victims of Florida school massacre

Union Leader Correspondent
New Hampshire Sunday News

March 15. 2018 10:43AM
Students at Bedford High School were among the thousands of students across the nation who walked out of class Wednesday to protest gun violence and remember the 17 students who were killed Feb. 14 in Parkland, Fla. (Jessica O'Brien)

Students across New Hampshire joined their counterparts across the nation Wednesday, walking out of classes to show their solidarity with the victims of last month’s school shooting at Parkland, Fla.

At noon, about 200 students from Manchester High School West gathered outside in a school parking lot. And there, for 17 long minutes, they stood bearing silent witness to their generation’s grief and frustration.

Some carried handmade signs: “#Never Again,” “#Enough,” and “Gun Control Now,” and “Mental Health is the Issue — Not Guns.” Some bowed their heads and a few recorded the moment on their phones.  

But most just stood in silence, their faces serious — and heartbreakingly young. It was a poignant reminder of the 14 students their age who were gunned down on an ordinary school day in Parkland on Valentine’s Day.

Before returning inside, students read the names of the 17 Parkland victims, including three staff members. Some were as young as 14 — Alyssa, Martin, Jaime, Cara, Gina, Alaina and Alex — while Chris Hixon, the school’s athletic director, was 49.

They also named another Parkland student who was injured in the attack and who remains hospitalized: Anthony Borges, shot multiple times while “shielding his classmates from the gunfire.”

“Never again can this happen,” declared Luke Boutin, 18, a West senior. “Never again.”

Afterward, Boutin said Wednesday’s peaceful walkout represents “a step in the right direction.” And he said all the students who participated in the event have agreed to do community service, “to make up for the time we weren’t in school.”

Another organizer, Angelina Fontanez, 17, a junior, said it was “heartwarming” to see so many students participate. “I’m proud of my school,” she said tearfully.

Emma Nyangwara, 18, said the decision to participate was left up to individual students. She said some felt the time should be spent talking about the issue of school safety. But she said the group decided to spend the 17 minutes in silent tribute to the Parkland victims.

But this was just the start of the conversation, she said; she planned to spend the rest of the day discussing the issues with classmates.

Nyangwara said she’s excited that she will be able to vote for the first time this year. “It’s so incredibly important,” she said.

About 40 students at Manchester Memorial High School also held a peaceful 17-minute walkout Wednesday morning.

Dover High School

About 180 Dover High School students participated in two ceremonies Wednesday morning to honor those killed in Florida.

Outside the school, Student Council President Kylan Mastro and senior Aidan Mattingly offered brief remarks before the names of the Parkland victims were read.

“It is a chillingly familiar cycle of mass shooting, temporary interest and ultimate reversion to the status quo that has gripped us time and again in the past decade. But now following the tragedy of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the young victims of the event are daring to speak out to demand that nobody else endure what they have,” Mattingly said.

“We stand in solidarity with those in Florida, and those around the nation, and declare to the government of this United States that no more students may die at the hands of madmen and terrorists,” he said.

Sophomore Ivosta Mumu was holding a sign that read: “Don’t wait ’til it happens to you #guncontrol.”

“We shouldn’t be losing our own to the hands of a person we can contain,” she said.

Principal Peter Driscoll described the activities outside and inside the building as respectful. “It was very typical of our student body,” he said. “We want this to be a learning opportunity. We’re saying, ‘Now you have raised awareness. What are your next steps?’”

Market Square event

Students were planning to walk out at Oyster River High School in Durham on Wednesday, but a two-hour delay due to the latest snowstorm postponed the event; instead, students will walk out on April 20.

Students at Spaulding High School in Rochester also plan to walk out on April 20.

Some Oyster River students decided to join Portsmouth High School students and members of the public at a protest in Portsmouth’s Market Square Wednesday afternoon.

ORHS Senior Sophia Graff said she wanted to participate because there are “too many school shootings.”

“I shouldn’t have to worry about violence while working hard to get an education,” Graff said.

Police shut down a portion of Pleasant Street, in anticipation of a large turnout. There were about 200 people participating at 1:30 p.m. Students chanted “Books, not bullets,” “Arms are for hugging,” “No more silence, end gun violence” and “Hey hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go.”

Kristina Campbell was in the crowd with her daughter, Maya. Campbell said Maya is 16 years old and worried about her safety at Portsmouth High School.

“As a parent, I just assure her that the probability is low but to be aware of your surroundings and watch out for each other,” Campbell said.

Although there have been no reports of recent arrests for shooting threats at Dover High School, Dover Superintendent William Harbron confirmed Tuesday that a student was investigated by school officials and police.

“That student has a number of issues,” Harbron said. “It was handled properly, and the school was not in any danger.”

A disciplinary hearing was held Monday night. Harbron said the matter is sealed; he would not reveal the student’s name or the date of the alleged incident.

The student is expected to return to school.

‘Not alone’

In Manchester, the West High event drew a small group of adult supporters from nearby St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. Sue Gordon said her group had a simple message for the teenagers: “That they’re not alone.”

Gordon brought along pages depicting photos and biographies of each of the Parkland victims. The students passed them around during their 17-minute vigil, studying the faces.

“It’s important when your children have died that you have a face, not just a name,” Gordon said. “It could be our kids.”

In a statement issued Wednesday, Manchester School District superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas said while students have free speech rights, schools can limit disruptive actions that invade the rights of others.

“Manchester students followed their school protocols and guidelines set by each principal to ensure that instructional time was not disrupted and that safety measures were in place,” he said.

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