The sun was shining and the air was warm as more than a hundred students walked out of class Thursday morning at Lewis and Clark High School.
But this was much more than a chance to skip a lecture, and the students made that clear.
“End gun violence,” the students chanted as they stood outside the LC commons. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough.”
They also stood in silence for 21 minutes – one minute each for the 19 children and two teachers massacred by a gunman Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
A few students spoke. Some hung their heads; others cried as they returned to class.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Maille Hart, a sophomore. “I can’t even wrap my mind around what those students and parents must be going through.”
“It could happen any day. … I wake up and I’m terrified to go to school some days,” Hart added.
The walkout was part of a nationwide movement by Students Demand Action, a national organization that focuses on ending gun violence.
A day earlier, students at Ridgeline High in Liberty Lake held a similar walkout. They stood in silence for 21 minutes; some held signs that read, “Ridgeline Students for Robb Elementary” and “Silence for Uvalde.”
At LC, senior Gabriel Kelly put out the notice Thursday morning, and students responded by spreading the word and making protest signs.
“The response has been amazing,” said Kelly, who estimated the turnout at 125 to 150 students.
The message was simple. “We as students shouldn’t be the ones that need to fight for this, but we are the ones that have to fight for this. We have to demand change, we have to demand action.”
“We are asking lawmakers to please pass laws that end gun violence,” said Kelly, one of the speakers. “We need red-flag laws on those people who fail background checks.”
Kelly noted that Uvalde gunman Salvador Ramos had offered hints of his actions on social media, and he pressed for better notification from Facebook and other platforms when threats arise.
The tragedy in Texas comes as citizens served by Spokane Public Schools debate whether students would be safer if the district returned to having armed resource officers in buildings.
No, Kelly said, “because that means having guns in schools. We are looking forward to a nation where gun violence is an exception and not the status quo as it is today.”
A few feet away, LC senior Will Merritt, the Associated Student Body president, said that some students have become acclimated to gun violence in schools.
Recalling the news from Texas, he recalled receiving a notification on his phone – and ignoring it.
“That was the easiest thing to do – just take a step back and ignore it,” Merritt said. “I didn’t know how to handle it, but it’s really too bad that this is the normal thing now.”
Merritt agreed that the problem is complex and won’t be solved by protests and vigils, and that politics plays a big part in the controversy.
But if the emotions are mixed, they’ve also become raw for many students.
Merritt said that some students at LC are “having a rough time,” and that some of the emotional problems that lead to gun violence are preventable through an emphasis on mental health.
Addressing the politics of gun control, Merritt acknowledged that “I’m not going to pretend like I understand the complexities of the problems, or the solution.
“But my message is that in times of tragedy, we need to come together. We need to be one voice for change, for the protection of our kids.”