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Durango students join school walkout

Teens stood in silence to remember school shooting victims, call for more action on curbing gun violence

High school students across Durango participated in a national walkout Wednesday morning to remember victims of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.

At Durango High School, a few students carried homemade signs decrying school violence, and many remembered the loss of Francisco “Paco” Fernandez and Casey Marquez, the students killed in the Aztec High School shooting on Dec. 7, 2017. Some called for efforts to ban semi-automatic weapons often used in mass shootings.

Lana Patterson, 16, a junior at Durango High School, said she came out for the 17-minute walkout at the football field to support the Parkland and Aztec victims and also to back some form of gun control.

“Our Second Amendment rights give us the right to own guns, but we do not have to have military-grade weapons. And I think it’s too easy for mentally unstable people to get guns too easily,” she said.

Carter Reiter, 17, DHS Student Council co-president, said she has friends on both sides of the gun-control debate, and she knew students who did not walk out because they do not agree with calls for gun control.

About 300 students gathered on the football field at 10 a.m. Many held discussions in small groups, as organizers spoke briefly about the shootings in Aztec and Parkland and organized a letter-writing campaign and a voter-registration effort.

Students older than 17, but who will be 18 by November’s General Election, were able to register to vote. Some wrote letters to Colorado’s congressional delegation to ask for more legislation to protect schools and to restrict sales of semi-automatic weapons.

DHS students gathered in a circle in the center of the field as each name of those killed in Parkland and Aztec was read aloud followed by a moment of silence to honor them.

The nationwide walkout was largely organized on social media, with organization offered by the Women’s March Youth Empower.

Lily Smith, 14, a freshman at DHS, said it was right for students to walk out to show support for political action.

“We aren’t seeing a lot of action from adults. Maybe the stance that kids take can help make something happen,” she said.

About 20 students walked out of Big Picture High School, roughly one-fifth of the school, to gather for about 17 minutes in Buckley Park. They mostly talked among themselves; there were no speeches and no moment of silence.

Many students wore orange ribbons in honor of Fernandez and Marquez.

“That was way too close to home,” said Fiona Rodebaugh, 18, a senior who helped organize the walkout. “To have a shooting that killed two students right there – it should be a wakeup call to the politicians here, to the school board here, but we don’t see change. We don’t see anything changing anywhere.”

Most high school students are not old enough to vote, but their opinions still matter, she said.

Rodebaugh said she does not oppose gun ownership – “That’s part of being an American,” she said – but adults should be able to have a commonsense conversation about gun safety and gun legislation.

“I want to see the adults be adults and not act like they’re trying to take away the Second Amendment,” she said.

More than 100 students walked out at Animas High School. Students huddled in the parking lot around a painting of a rose for 17 minutes of silence.

They bowed their heads as another student read aloud the names of each victim. Some students were wiping away tears and hugging one another.

Some students said they are not convinced adults have their best interests in mind.

“I don’t necessarily like our government,” said Ethan Holst, a Student Council member who helped organize the walkout. “These lawmakers went to school a very long time ago.”

Junior Ava Stills said kids are taking matters into their own hands by organizing protests, and it’s forcing adults to listen to their concerns.

“They have to listen because our voice is growing so loud,” she said. “And we’ve got plenty to say.”

DHS Principal Jon Hoerl said the walkout was a part of the students’ education and maturation as they enter adulthood.

“A big part of growing up is figuring out what to get behind and support, and to recognize and respect what others believe – to understand both sides of an argument and to present yourself in a well-articulated and well-reasoned way. That’s important,” he said.

Ramón Perez, 17, a senior at DHS, said the Aztec shooting motivated many students to join the walkout, and the proximity of the shooting raised awareness of the danger to students in Durango.

“Some say your presence won’t matter, but it’s not about you. It’s about the numbers who come out and their devotion to the cause,” he said.

In Bayfield, about 60 Bayfield High School students silently sat in front of the school for 17 minutes.

“We hope this will make a statement,” Savannah Kaufmann told other students at the end of the remembrance.

Students said they participated to make their voices heard.

“Something needs to be done,” said Melissa Roberts, who sat at a table outside the school, holding hands in a circle with three other friends. “Students need to be heard.”

parmijo@durangoherald.com. Herald staff writers Mia Rupani and Shane Benjamin contributed to this report.

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