ITHACA, N.Y. — It started with a handful of people crossing the North Cayuga Street bridge toward Ithaca High School, carrying signs and wearing bright orange ribbons. By 10 a.m., dozens of supporters greeted hundreds of students as they walked out of school to protest gun violence and to advocate for tougher gun restrictions.
On the sidewalk outside of the school, they stood under a steady, soft snowfall for 17 minutes to commemorate the 17 people killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month in Florida. About 15 minutes into the demonstration, students from Boynton Middle School were greeted with applause as they joined their peers.
“It was really beautiful and really inspiring to see so many people supporting the same thing that I do,” said IHS senior Maddi Carroll. “I walked out because I stand in solidarity with the 17 … who died and I want to protest gun violence.”
Two 14-year-old middle school students, Rebecca Rodriguez and Serenity Lowery, said they also walked out to protest gun violence.
“I wanted to represent the kids that lost their lives, innocent kids,” Lowery said.
Rodriguez added, “Anywhere you go, you’re supposed to be safe. Even if you’re in high school, or middle school, or elementary, you’re still supposed to be safe where you’re at. Nobody should be killing each other in this world because that’s not how it’s supposed to be … you’re supposed to be here to learn and get an education.”
The walkout was part of a national movement to urge lawmakers to enhance gun control laws, from supporting red flag gun laws that would keep firearms out of the hands of people who are a risk to themselves or others to banning AR-15 style rifle.
It was kicked off by the teenage survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre, who have made national headlines in the past few weeks as they have spoken out about gun control and the National Rifle Association.
Ithaca High School and Boynton Middle School students were not the only ones to walk out Wednesday in Tompkins County. There were about 200 at Lehman Alternative Community School, about 375 Dewitt Middle School, at least 100 at Cornell University and several students at New Roots Charter School and Belle Sherman Elementary. Other schools were also expected to walkout.
In the Ithaca City School District, a student said people who walked out were not being punished as long as they were only gone for about 20 minutes. Teachers also kept an attendance list of students who participated in the demonstration, an estimated 400 students total. The Ithaca Police Department was also on-hand at the demonstration. Officer Jamie Williamson said IPD worked with school officials to ensure students were as safe as possible while expressing themselves.
While he said officials anticipated that the demonstration would be respectful and peaceful, they were prepared for worst case scenarios.
“It would be painful for me to be a teacher under these circumstances,” supporter Cheryl Mitchell said.
Mitchell said she taught primarily second grade for about 18 years at South Hill and Northeast elementary schools in Ithaca.
She was teaching when the Columbine High School massacre happened in 1999, leaving 15 people dead. She thought the shooting was an “aberration” but saw school shootings become deadlier over the years. She was shocked after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 left 20 young students and six staff members dead, yet few things changed in the conversation about gun violence.
“Now it’s time. Change has to happen,” Mitchell said. “I’m delighted that the kids are taking the lead on it.”