Thousands of Triangle students take part in walkouts, push for an end to gun violence

Thousands of Triangle students walked out of their classrooms Wednesday morning as part of a national movement to honor the victims of the Parkland. Fla., high school shooting and to call for changes to end school gun violence.

The Women's March Youth EMPOWER encouraged students across the country to walk out at 10 a.m. Wednesday for 17 minutes — one minute for each of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on Feb. 14. Students at numerous public and private schools in Wake, Durham and Orange counties and Chapel Hill-Carrboro marched out in a show of solidarity.

More than 1,000 students walked out of Apex Friendship High School in western Wake County, some carrying signs that said things like, "NRA blood is on your hands" and "Guns don't kill people ... legislators." They chanted, "No justice, no peace!" and "No more silence!"

"I was so proud of my school. I knew there were going to be some people here, but I was thinking 100 or 200 maybe," said Bailey Ingham, 17, a senior and one of the organizers. "This really blew my mind."

Apex Friendship High School students hold signs calling for end to school gun violence as part of a school walkout on March 14, 2018 in Apex, N.C., held on the one-month anniversary of the school shootings in Parkland, Fla. T. Keung Hui

While most walkouts seemed to go as planned, the event at Broughton High School in Raleigh was canceled because of a rumored threat. Principal Elena Ashburn said in a message to parents Wednesday afternoon that "there was a false rumor of a threat and a post on social media that caused unnecessary fear among our school community."

Organizers of the Broughton event had hoped to register students to vote. "We ... will continue getting our fellow students to register and commit to vote — and get their parents to commit to vote — in November against politicians who do nothing in the face of recurring tragedies," student Sanzari Aranyak said in an email Tuesday.

Ingham said some Apex Friendship students asked her if they would be safe outside during the protest.

"The fact that you have to think about it is why we need this protest," Ingham told those worried classmates. "You shouldn't have to wonder if you can go to a student gathering because somebody might bring a gun."

Some protests were more explicit than others in calling for tougher gun control laws. But a common theme from the events was that students no longer feel safe in schools and want elected leaders to take action.

Before students walked out at East Chapel Hill High, the school held discussions about gun violence in each class. The discussions took the form of restorative practices, a medium that the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are using to help students feel safer and more involved with their schools.

Many students wore orange T-shirts with the names of local businesses supporting the walkout on the back.

Principal Eileen Tully said the students did not ask for permission or cooperation and did almost all the planning off campus.

"The kids pretty much told us they were walking out," Tully said, "and they told us in an amazingly professional fashion."

At Northern High School in Durham, a student read the names of the 17 people in Florida shot to death. State Sen. Mike Woodard led the students in a chant of "Not One More!" State Rep. Marcia Morey, a former judge, also spoke, calling for stricter gun control.

While some school districts around the U.S. threatened to suspend students who walked out, most Triangle school districts said they won't punish students as long as protests are orderly.

Even before Wednesday, students at some Triangle schools held walkouts in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting. On Feb. 28, more than 2,000 students at Green Hope High School in Cary walked out of class to demand safer schools.

On Wednesday, a handful of students at Apex Friendship High School showed their support for President Donald Trump and held signs that said, "Don't tread on me" and "Lightning has killed more people than guns."

Adam Cascone, an 18-year-old a senior, wore a T-shirt that said, "Make America Great Again" and an American flag wrapped around his shoulders.

"I don't see a problem with guns," Cascone said. "I see a problem with people."

Most students demanded legislators take action to make schools safer.

"We need something to change, and that needs to happen now," said Whinter Collin, 17, a senior and one of the organizers of the Apex Friendship event. "It's up to governments, primarily the North Carolina government, to change something so this will never happen again."

More protests are planned nationally on April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado. Students from several Wake County high schools plan to hold rally that day in downtown Raleigh against gun violence.

Correspondent Matt Goad contributed.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui
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