At 9:55 a.m. on Wednesday, students silently filed out of duPont Manual High School’s doors. The line of students, later estimated by student organizers to be three-fourths of the school’s 1,800 students, flooded the parking lot, remaining silent for another 28 minutes.
A part of a nationwide school walkout, the students honored the 17 victims of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting one month ago. Participants stood silently as senior Fons Cervera read the name of each victim. The official walkout lasted 17 minutes — one minute for each Parkland victim — but the Manual walkout added time to remember the two students killed at Marshall County High School in January.
A team of around 20 Manual students planned the walkout over the past three weeks after being inspired by Parkland students’ actions after the shooting. The group decided to hold a walkout in conjunction with national walkout day to show solidarity with the Parkland students.
“Really, in our eyes, it’s a way to remember the students and faculty who lost their lives in Florida and a way to raise awareness to the fact that politicians — like I said, the people who are supposed to be protecting us — are not doing their job,” Cervera said.
The organizers hope the event can inspire change to prevent future school shootings, and potentially legislative actions including more gun control. Senior organizer Nyah Mattison said she’d like to see AR-15s banned, no gun sales to anyone under 21 and stricter background checks.
However, Cervera said the event wasn’t a protest. The choice to stay silent, with the exception of one person saying the victim’s names over a loudspeaker, was symbolic, Mattison said.
“This is saying we want change in a way that speaks louder than the words we could have said,” Mattison said.
Junior student organizer Audrey Champelli said students “absolutely” think about if and when a school shooting could happen to them — herself included.
“I think everybody is more scared than people think, and I think a lot of people are even more scared than they know they are,” Champelli said.
Those safety fears carried over to the planning of the school’s walkout, according to student organizers. The walkout’s exact location wasn’t announced until the night before due to safety concerns, and JCPS asked schools to provide adult supervision for participants.
“You’re supposed to go to school to feel safe and to learn, not to have to worry about getting shot,” Cervera said.
School shootings and the inaction that often follows can rattle students, some of whom no longer feel safe coming to school. Shootings can also create an “aura of suspicion” in schools, where students are often placed in a position of identifying potential shooters and reporting odd behaviors before something happens, Champelli said.
“I’ll be walking through the hallways, looking at my fellow students as if I should suspicious of some of them. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to me,” Champelli said.
The walkout isn’t the only way the organizers will be raising awareness of school shootings. A group of around 20 students will be going to the national March For Our Lives event in Washington, D.C. later this month.