Some Maryland students walk out to protest gun violence on Columbine anniversary

Hannah Siegert recently mapped out escape routes from each of her classes. She wanted to be prepared should a gunman ever decide to unleash terror on her Baltimore County school.

That she felt compelled to think about that was one of many reasons the 18-year-old Patapsco High School student participated in Friday’s national school walkout against gun violence, held on the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting.

Siegert and her fellow student protesters weren’t born when 13 people were killed in the hallways and classrooms of Columbine. But they were in elementary school when 32 people died at Virginia Tech and they were in middle school when 26 were killed at Sandy Hook. People their own age were among the 17 killed during the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

They’ve grown up, Siegert said, “not knowing who will be next.”

The more than 100 students who walked out of Patapsco Friday said they want public officials to recognize that kids are scared to go to school in an age of school shootings. Through continued pressure in the form of rallies and demonstrations, they’re hoping for change.

There were some other walkouts at schools in the Baltimore region, though the event was smaller than the first national school walkout March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting.

Some area schools held moments of silence in memory of those slain in Columbine, while at others, April 20 unfolded like any other school day.

Some school districts in the Baltimore region took a firm stance against the walkout.

Carroll County Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said students who chose to participate would face consequences, from a parent-teacher conference to suspension. He said the walkouts have become increasingly political, straying from what he saw as the original purpose of remembrance. Harford County officials also said they did not condone the walkout.

In Howard County, anti-gun-violence demonstrations were limited to one hour, Howard Superintendent Michael J. Martirano wrote in a letter to families. Meanwhile, national organizers expected some walkouts, including the one at Patapsco, to last all day.

More than 2,000 schools — at least one in every state — were registered to participate in some way, according to the organizers’ website. A majority of American teenagers say they are worried about the possibility of a shooting happening at their school, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

At Patapsco High School, students had different ideas about what would make them feel safer, though many cited stricter background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

Hannah Yost, 17, said she’s not sure how to resolve the gun debate — but that complicated question shouldn’t be left up to her anyway.

“I don’t have the answers, but it isn’t my job to. It is my job to be a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a friend, a teenager,” she said. “Those rich, old, predominantly white men sit atop Capitol Hill day in and day out with the power to make things better. That is their job.”

At one point during the Patapsco rally, which took place a few blocks off-campus, the student speakers competed with the shouts of a small group of counter-protesters, including some of their classmates and a 30-year-old man.

JR Rush, a gun owner and NRA member, said the kids should have remained in school. He lifted his phone to record the rally, his hand tattooed with a “Don’t tread on me” tattoo.

“Millions of lives are saved because of legal gun owners,” he said.

The Patapsco students who left campus Friday will face detention, according to school administrators.

Friday was the the one-month anniversary of the Great Mills High School shooting, which left two students dead, including the shooter.

Some students there gathered outside during their lunch period to speak against gun violence.

“I was tired of this before it happened to my school and I’m even more tired now,” said Great Mills senior Mollie Davis. “But I cannot be tired because the day we stop talking about this is the day Great Mills becomes … just another name on the long, long list of places this has happened to.”

The principal at Columbine High School, the site of the deadly shooting on April 20, 1999, publicly urged students not to walk out.

“Please consider planning service projects, an activity that will somehow build up your school, or perhaps pre-Day Without Hate event on April 20, as opposed to a walkout,” wrote current principal Scott Christy and former principal Frank DeAngelis in a joint letter.

The Patapsco students who participated in Friday’s walkout stressed the need for diverse viewpoints.

“When we say we want to end gun violence, we cannot forget the Black and Latino communities that have been fighting this epidemic long before the students in Parkland have,” said 16-year-old Kailah Johnson. “We cannot talk about gun control without mentioning Chicago, Detroit, Oakland, Baltimore.”

Some Maryland schools had alternative activities planned for Friday. At the Baltimore School for the Arts, students were putting on a play about gun violence. Friends School of Baltimore students prepared a school-wide presentation about how gun violence is a public health issue.

On the day of the walkout, another school shooting happened in Florida’s Marion County. Police say a gunman entered Forest High School with a shotgun, wounding one student before he was taken into custody.

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