WOODSTOCK – On the 19th anniversary of a mass school shooting in Colorado, and about 90 minutes after a new attack in Florida, students at Central High School walked out of classes Friday to protest gun laws they believe are too weak, part of a nationwide event involving more than 2,500 schools.
This national walkout, organized in each school by students and not sanctioned by administrators, took place on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting that left 13 dead.
About a dozen students, with permission slips from parents, walked out of Central High School at 10 a.m. Most of the students were unaware that a student was shot in the ankle at Forest High School in Ocala, Florida at about 8:30 a.m.
The local students, in a low key event without signs, walked from the high school down Reservoir Road to Main Street where they continued to walk through the downtown.
As they walked, student leaders advised other students that counter protestors were expected to be at the Shenandoah County courthouse.
Law enforcement officials were in the area to ensure safety.
“We are going to meet up with counter protestors, try not to engage,” said the student leaders.
Students when they got to the courthouse The students stopped momentarily when they arrived at the courthouse and then continued to walk on toward the General District courthouse on Mill Street, leaving the handful of counter protestors behind.
Sophomore Adele Roulston, 16, one of the student organizers, spoke to the gathering about Richard Castaldo – a friend she and her family knew who is considered the first person shot at Columbine.
Castaldo was shot eight times. One of the shots fractured his spine, paralyzing him, Roulston said.
Rachel Scott, a friend of his, was shot alongside him, Roulston said.
“He said the worst part was hearing her sobbing. They shot her again and she died,” Roulston said.
Roulston then called for 31 minutes of silence, 13 minutes for those who died at Columbine, 17 minutes for those who died at Parkland and one minute for the student who had just been shot and injured in Florida.
Afterward, another student organizer, Zander France, spoke.
“We walked out of today to protest gun laws,” France said. “There have been 137 school shootings since 1980, killing 297 people around America in just 32 years. Two hundred ninety seven innocent people people passed away as a result of someone else’s harmful actions.”
Kids are required to go to school, France said, adding they should not have to live in fear.
France said students are not asking to take guns away from everyone but to try a little harder to keep the nation’s kids safe.
France questioned why there was not stricter regulation of assault weapons.
“When you look up “assault rifle” you get this definition: an assault rifle is a rapid-fire, magazine-fed automatic rifle designed for infantry use. So, why do some civilians have assault weapons intended ‘for infantry use’”, France asked.
Others spoke of the need for background checks to keep weapons from those who should not own one and how vehicles are more regulated than gun ownership.
And they spoke of a need for young people their age to make change happen.