City students walk out
Standing on a raised platform in the Concordia Lutheran High School parking lot, senior Drew Amstutz on Wednesday morning looked down at hundreds of his peers, some of whom were teary-eyed, as they remembered the deadly school shooting that happened a month ago.
Across town at nearly the same time, about 20 students at New Tech Academy at Wayne High School walked outside, talking about school safety and the Parkland, Florida, massacre that left 17 dead.
Scenes similar to those in Fort Wayne played out in other communities as students participated in a nationwide student walkout to protest gun violence. The walkouts were the biggest demonstrations yet of the student activism that has emerged since the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Students poured out of the Florida school at 10 a.m. and planned to stay outside for 17 minutes, one for each victim.
In Washington, D.C., thousands of students gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, holding colorful signs and cheering in support of gun control.
The protests have drawn mixed reactions from school administrators. While some applaud students for taking a stand, others threatened discipline.
Locally, the widely publicized walkout raised safety concerns among school districts. Students here were told they could face consequences for walking out, such as being marked truant. Just as Fort Wayne Community Schools’ planned indoor activities didn’t stop some students from walking out, students elsewhere walked out despite warnings.
Sponsored by the Women’s March Network, the National School Walkout was created to protest lawmakers’ inaction in responding to gun violence in schools.
‘Her story could have been mine’
Despite frigid temperatures, students huddled outside Concordia, mostly in silence, as three peers led a remembrance and prayer event.
Many students wore maroon, a school color Concordia shares with Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
The student organizers wanted to honor the shooting victims and bring awareness to gun violence, Amstutz said.
He was particularly sensitive to the Florida tragedy. A girl he will attend college with barricaded herself in a supply closet at the Parkland high school during the shooting.
“Her story could have been mine,” he said. “Her story could have been yours.”
Fellow senior Sa’Mya Jordan reinforced the message “see something, say something” and encouraged classmates to reach out to those who might be lonely or in need of a smile.
“The smallest things really go the longest way,” she said.
Both Jordan and Amstutz encouraged students not to live in fear.
“Together, we can be the ones who change the world,” Jordan said, “one small community at a time.”
‘Our voice matters’
As students inside signed a banner pledging to pay people compliments and to contact state lawmakers about gun control, a group of about 20 students at New Tech Academy at Wayne High School walked out.
They stood in a circle near the entrance to the school, expressing frustration, anger and concern about firearms and lax regulations that allowed 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz access to an AR-15 rifle. Each wearing orange ribbons to symbolize gun violence, they took turns sharing their feelings.
“This is showing them, inside, that at least this many are scared,” said Rhiannon Clayton, 15, a student who organized the demonstration.
She said the “What’s Your 17?” banner is a good way to honor the victims of the school shooting, but more must be done.
Others in the group agreed, calling for more restrictions on sales of weapons.
“How is a person that is not able to legally drink able to own a weapon of mass destruction?” asked Dejanae Ellis, a junior. Ellis said she has family in Florida and is now worried about her younger siblings at school.
“I’m tired of always being told, ‘You’re a kid,’” Ellis said. “Anything we can do to change things, it happens now.”
Kiara Chapman, 17, said it’s important for students to speak out.
“I think it’s important for us now to use our voice,” she said. “Our voice matters the most at this time.”
Inside, students made pledges to call and write to lawmakers, to make new friends, to love and to “serve the homeless.”
Organizers Esa Rhodes, 15, Jazmyn Davis, 15, and Emma Cannon, 16, said they hope the banner will bring students together.
“What we’re trying to do is focus less on the politics,” Rhodes said.
Nathanial Leamon, 16, said his pledge to pay 17 people compliments : one for each of the victims : was simple.
“I feel bad for the families,” he said. “I enjoy helping people.”
By the end of Wednesday, about 300 students were expected to have signed the banner.
Wayne students not in the New Tech program did a similar indoor activity.
New Tech Director Emily Oberlin said administrators urge students to speak out on issues in which they believe strongly. Doing so encourages political activism, she said.
“I’m proud of them,” Oberlin said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.