A small but determined group of Sanderson High School students and their supporters gathered in downtown Raleigh this week to promote a town hall meeting about gun violence.
Students will be joined by state legislators, local education leaders and law enforcement representatives for the event, N.C. Town Hall on School Safety, on Tuesday in the Raleigh school's auditorium.
There have been at least 23 school shootings in the United States this year, Greear Webb, one of the student organizers, said during a press event last Tuesday at the Bicentennial Mall on the state legislative grounds.
Those include the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed Feb. 14, and at Santa Fe High School near Houston this month, when 10 people were killed.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Even though the shootings happened hundreds of miles from the Triangle, the Sanderson students said the tragedies struck home.
The group's supporters included Aaron Wolff, who was a veterinary student at Virginia Tech in 2007, when a gunman killed 33 people in one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
Gerald Givens, a gun violence survivor who lives in the Triangle, was also present, along with members of March For Our Lives Raleigh, a student movement whose goal is to stop gun violence.
The idea for the town hall came when students across the country, including at Sanderson, walked out of class March 14 to demand legislative action after the school shooting in Florida.
"To those of us currently enrolled in high school, the fear of violence is a daily one and one that is never far from our minds," Webb said. "We were literally addressing invitation envelopes to this town hall event when yet another school shooting was occurring in Texas."
Four days before the massacre at Santa Fe High School, the possibility of a similar tragedy happening in their own lives resonated throughout the halls and classrooms of Sanderson High. The school went on a "Code Red" lockdown following reports of an intruder on campus.
"Code Red" means an immediate threat to the school. Students move into safe areas, and all interior doors are locked.
After the code was lifted after about 40 minutes, principal Gregory Decker said police arrived immediately and did not find an intruder.
Even though everyone was safe, Sanderson senior Jess Makler said she felt "so lucky to be here."
"It's deeply personal to us," she said.
Lauren Santana, also a senior at the school, echoed the sentiments of many young people over the past few months.
"We have grown up watching others who are our own age die of senseless violence," she said.
Webb and other town hall organizers are calling the event a "community conversation about gun violence and the safety of children in our schools."
Wake County Commissioner John Burns, whose son attends Sanderson High, called for stronger gun control in a Twitter post the day the school was locked down.
"I do not want to continue to pretend it is normal to be a society where I am proud of my son for directing his classmates into a nearby bathroom and manning the door because of a Code Red," Burns wrote. "Either we do something real about guns or we abandon all claims to being civilized. #enough."
Panelists at the forum will include State Sens. John Alexander and Jay Chaudhuri and Wake County school board chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler.
But the students expect their voices to be at the forefront of the dialogue.