Students Hold Nationwide Walkouts to Protest Gun Violence on Columbine Anniversary

All told, tens of thousands of students left class Friday for protests that spread from coast to coast

Once again, they filed out of class. In a new wave of school walkouts, they raised their voices against gun violence. But this time, they were looking to turn outrage into action.

Many of the students who joined demonstrations across the country Friday turned their attention to upcoming elections as they pressed for tougher gun laws and politicians who will enact them. Scores of rallies turned into voter registration drives. Students took the stage to issue an ultimatum to their lawmakers.

"We want to show that we're not scared. We want to stop mass shootings and we want gun control," said Binayak Pandey, 16, who rallied with dozens of students outside Georgia's Capitol in Atlanta. "The people who can give us that will stay in office, and the people who can't give us that will be out of office."

All told, tens of thousands of students left class Friday for protests that spread from coast to coast. They filed out at 10 a.m. to gather for a moment of silence honoring the victims of gun violence. Some headed to nearby rallies. Others stayed at school to discuss gun control and register their peers to vote.

Organizers said an estimated 150,000 students protested Friday at more than 2,700 walkouts, including at least one in each state, as they sought to sustain a wave of youth activism that drove a larger round of walkouts on March 14. Activists behind that earlier protest estimated it drew nearly 1 million students.

On Friday, hundreds of Washington-area students gathered at a park near the White House, taking 19 minutes of silence for each year that has passed since the Columbine massacre. They then marched toward the Capitol building where they were to rally and deliver letters to Congress calling for greater gun control.

Nate Fenerty was among hundreds of students who left class to rally in Richmond, Virginia. He registered to vote for the first time at tables set up by students at the protest and said he wants Congress to approve mandatory background checks for gun buyers.

"How many more times are we going to stand in memoriam for another school shooting before our policymakers to actually do something?" said Fenerty, who carried a sign saying "Am I Next?"

In New York City, crowds of students gathered in Washington Square Park and lay down in a "die-in." 

Demonstrations in San Diego, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago and across the Bay Area drew hundreds of students.

Shortly before the walkouts, another school shooting in Florida left one student injured. One student shot another in the ankle at Forest High School in Ocala, authorities said. The suspect was taken into custody.

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman killed 17 on Feb. 14, student David Hogg said the latest shooting underscored the urgency of the protests.

"We have to stop this. We're not going to be able to stop this unless we continue to make our voices heard, though, when our elected officials won't," Hogg said in a video posted to social media. "We have to get out there and make our voices heard, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans."

Hogg was among about 50 students who walked out of Stoneman Douglas after administrators threatened protesters with unexcused absences.

Craig Smith and Terry McGary, both 17-year-old juniors, said they walked out because they want to show respect for the Columbine victims.

"It was a guilt trip to make us not walk out," McGary said about the threat.

Smith said gun violence can "no longer be swept under the covers."

"This is the only way to bring attention to the issue," he said.

The walkouts are the latest in a wave of youth activism that has emerged after the Parkland massacre.

Tens of thousands of students left class March 14 to protest gun violence in what historians called the largest youth protest movement since at least the Vietnam War. Days later, hundreds of thousands of teens and their backers rallied across the U.S. calling for tougher laws on guns and ammunition.

Plans for Friday's walkout began only hours after the Parkland shooting, when a Connecticut teen started an online petition calling for protests on the anniversary of Columbine. Sophomore Lane Murdock then gathered a few other students at Ridgefield High School to orchestrate the national protest.

They also have received help from Indivisible, a left-leaning nonprofit based in Washington that helps boost grassroots activism. The group says it was formed after the 2016 election to oppose the policies promoted by President Donald Trump.

"We're walking out to remember every single young person who has been killed by American gun violence," Murdock said in a statement Thursday. "We're walking out to talk about the real problems our country is facing, and the solutions that our leaders are too scared to dream up."

Students at Ridgefield High School marched onto the school’s football field shortly after 10 a.m. Friday for a rally that included Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, among its speakers. Across Connecticut, hundreds of students staged walkouts.

Some schools in Houston and elsewhere were giving students time to share their views but warned them not to leave campus or return to class late. Some others held alternative events after school. Many simply said students are expected to stay in class throughout the day.

In Littleton, some survivors of the Columbine shooting planned to join with Parkland survivors for a vigil and rally Thursday evening. But there was no walkout at Columbine, which has long canceled classes on the anniversary of the shooting. Instead, students are called to participate in a day of service.

Principal Scott Christy said in a letter to other schools in his district that April "has long been a time to respectfully remember our loss, and also support efforts to make our communities a better place."

Binkley reported from Boston. Associated Press writers Terry Spencer in Parkland, Florida; Verena Dobnik in New York City; Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; and Mitchell Willetts in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report.

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