Students at Hillsboro's high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools participated in the nationwide walkout

STAFF PHOTO: GEOFF PURSINGER - Hundreds of Century High School students march out of class Wednesday, March 14. The walkout was part of a nationwide protest against gun violence in American schools.More than 2,000 Hillsboro students walked out of class on Wednesday in protest against gun violence in American schools, according to numbers released by the Hillsboro School District.

On Wednesday, March 14, students across the nation participated in a 17-minute walkout, marching and chanting after more than a dozen people were killed in a Florida high school.

Students at a dozen Hillsboro schools participated in the walkout, including each of the district's high schools, middle school and a handful of elementary classrooms.

At Century, as many as 400 hundred students marched out of class and around the building to show their support for the students in Florida. Glencoe High School held a 17-minute long moment of silence, one minute for each of the 17 people killed in the Feb. 14 shooting.

"I think this is the start of something," said Hannah Murray, 18, a senior at Century High School and one of the organizers of Wednesday's walkout. "A lot of people are tired and things have to change. A lot of us — people just like me who just turned 18 — are allowed to vote now. This is our country, too, now. We want changes and we want them now."

Students hold up signs as they march from Century High School on Wednesday, March 14The walkouts came one month after a Feb. 14 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead. A former student at the school, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was arrested and has been charged in the case.

"The idea of having someone come into my school where I'm supposed to be safe and hurting me and people who go there and ruining that sense of security is awful," Murray said. "School is hard enough with tests and growing up. We shouldn't have to worry every time the intercom comes on or someone reaches for something in their backpack that we're all going to die."

Murray and other organizers said the walkouts were to send a message to Salem and Washington, D.C.

"We want to put forth our support for the cause, and show disdain for the lack of movement on this issue from the state and federal government," said Peter Wedlake, 17, who organized the Glencoe High School walkout.

 That sentiment was moving to Nicole Odom, a Hillsboro resident and Florida native who graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 1997.

"It means a lot. It spreads the message," said Odom, who teaches kindergarten in Beaverton and marched with Century High School students on Wednesday. "For a lot of kids seeing it on television doesn't quite hit home, but something like this it brings the awareness up."

'I'd like to be in class'

Walkouts at more than 2,500 schools across the country were coordinated nationally by EMPOWER, the youth wing of the Women's March.

Since the Parkland shooting, student survivors made appearances in the national media — including a televised CNN town hall in which they directly addressed members of Florida's congressional delegation, the sheriff of Broward County, Fla., and a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association — some conservative commentators have criticized students for speaking out on the issues of gun violence and gun control, arguing that they are not knowledgeable or experienced enough to speak with authority on the subject.

Murray said she and other teenagers are doing what they can to change that narrative.

"I'd like to be in class," she said. "I'd like not to worry about being shot. Everyone teaches their children to stand up for themselves and to do what's right, but when we try to exercise our rights as Americans, suddenly they don't want us to."

COUTESY PHOTO: PETER WEDLAKE - Students at Glencoe lock arms for a moment of silence on Wednesday, March 14.Katie Lightcap, a student at Pacific University in Forest Grove who also walked out of classes on Wednesday, rejected that criticism as well.

"The great thing about being in a democracy is that every person has a voice," she said. "That's why it is a democracy. So in hearing that criticism, like we don't know enough, we aren't old enough to fully understand the breadth of this, I almost want to, like, laugh, because we have been directly impacted."

Lightcap is from Roseburg, which was shaken on Oct. 1, 2015, by a school shooting at nearby Umpqua Community College.

"I have a friend who was shot nine times," she said. "She was one of the survivors in the UCC shooting, and she's alive. And so visiting with her and seeing her, they can't tell me that I don't know [what I'm talking about]."

It wasn't just students who walked out of class. Several parents and community members attended the walkouts at schools, holding signs and cheering on protestors.

Odom said students who stand up are making an important statement.

"Tell your daughter an alumni says thank you for being brave today," she told one parent, who said his daughter was picked on for wanting to demonstrate. "It's hard to get up the nerve to stand up and walk out of class."

Another national walkout is planned for April 20, the anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, where 15 people were killed in 1997.

'A modest first step'

Leaders of the youth movement that has arisen since the Parkland shooting have called for more stringent gun control measures, including a ban on so-called "assault-style rifles" like the semi-automatic AR-15 rifle used at Stoneman Douglas High and in many other mass shootings in the United States.

On the same day as the walkouts, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to increase funding for the federal "Secure Our Schools" program, which provides training grants for law enforcement, school staff and students to prevent violence.

The bill, sponsored by Florida Republican Rep. Ron Rutherford, is called the STOP School Violence Act. It has the support of President Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association and appears likely to sail through Congress.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, a Democrat who represents Hillsboro and northwestern Oregon, said the bill is "a modest first step, but we must do more."

"Every day in our country, people lose their lives to gun violence," Bonamici said in a statement after voting in favor of the STOP School Violence Act. "Congress must come together to answer the call of the vast majority of Americans for stronger, universal background checks and for stopping dangerous individuals from getting guns."

Wednesday's walkouts weren't the first time Hillsboro students have marched out of class. In 2016, students at Forest Grove High School protested after a student hung a banner promoting plans for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. That sparked similar walkouts in schools across the Portland area, including several in Hillsboro. A year later, students at South Meadows Middle School and Liberty, Glencoe and Hillsboro high schools staged protests against President Donald Trump's administration for its stance against so-called "sanctuary cities."

Mark Miller contributed to this report

By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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