Drenched in sunshine and a sharp spring wind, more than 70 students marched Friday out of Freeman High School behind a “Freeman Strong” banner to the same football field where they sheltered in fear last September following the shooting that killed 15-year-old Sam Strahan and injured three girls.
Many of the school’s 320 students did not attend the students-only ceremony that included a song, moments of silence and speeches by two seniors.
“On Sept. 13, 2017, we experienced firsthand what many students around the nation fear and would never expect, a school shooting,” Konner Freudenthal, a senior, said. “This trying period is far from over, but has united us more than ever.”
After the speeches, the students set up tables to enable the students to register to vote.
“There is an obvious problem of senseless violence facing our world and something needs to be done,” Freudenthal read from a statement he helped write and had been approved by school officials. “We are a school with diverse opinions; however … we hope to get behind one central message of unity, change and perseverance.”
Freeman Superintendent Randy Russell said he did not see any of the three girls who were injured in the shooting take part in the walkout.
“It was emotional. You know, it brings back memories from last fall,” Russell said. “But, also, what a great job. I was just really impressed with how respectful, how thoughtful and how collaborative they have been working with us to really make this be a great day of tribute.”
Russell said the walkout was planned and carried out by students, including the decision to hold the rally at the spot where they hunkered down after the shooting.
“It’s still that road to recovery. For sure, we are on that road. It doesn’t seem like there is really any finish line,” Russell said. “But for our students, every time there is a violent act in another school, our students can relate to that on a personal level.”
According to charging documents, student Caleb Sharpe walked into Freeman on Sept. 13 with a duffel bag containing an AR-15 rifle. Witnesses told investigators that Sharpe tried to load the rifle, but it jammed. He then pulled a pistol and shot Strahan in the stomach and face and other shots struck three other girls, who have recovered from their wounds.
Sharpe, 16, remains in custody and faces a weeklong hearing on May 21 to decide whether he will stand trial for first-degree murder as a juvenile or an adult.
Freeman senior Jackson Clark also read from a prepared statement at the ceremony.
“It was on this track on the day of September 13th that we sought refuge from hardship and tragedy,” Clark said. “We gathered in fear, in shock and extreme sorrow as we said goodbye to a dear classmate and friend, Sam Strahan.”
Clark noted that the students again gathered some seven months later “stronger and more unified than ever. You will forever be in our hearts Sam Strahan.”
Freudenthal, who is the associated student body president, said the organizers wanted to avoid the discussion of gun control.
“We know that the majority of our students are not for that. We didn’t want to divide our school in any way,” he said.
The shooting of Strahan, at least for Freudenthal, remains an open wound.
“It’s not something that just goes away,” he said. “You are going to carry this with you the rest of your life. But you can take something so negative and turn it to a positive and help people get through it … and unify our school and the community.”
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