This story was reported by Víctor Manuel Ramos, John Asbury, Laura Blasey, Joie Tyrrell and Carol Polsky. It was written by Tyrrell.
Long Island students joined others nationwide to mark the 19th anniversary of the infamous mass shooting at Columbine High School with walkouts and in-school events calling for more action on gun violence and school safety.
Demonstrations took place across both counties as students participated in in-school activities in some districts and walked out in others as part of the National School Walkout Day. Friday’s events were smaller in scope than the walkouts and protests that occurred at dozens of Long Island schools last month as part of a national movement to memorialize the high school mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Friday’s action was organized by a sophomore at Ridgefield High School in Connecticut not long after the Feb. 14 shooting of 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and staff in Florida. It came on the date of the 1999 Colorado shooting, when two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher before taking their own lives.
In Levittown, student Julia Andor, 18, joined about 500 students who walked out at Island Trees High School. Students carried signs saying “It could have been us” and “Books not bullets.”
Andor participated to remember the victims of Parkland and Columbine, but also those killed in other mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 and Virginia Tech in 2007, she said.
“Never again should a child be shot at a school desk,” Andor said. “Children do not deserve to be shot at school. If we cannot agree on that, nothing will ever change. We stand up because we are the future and change is going to come.”
About 50 students walked out of Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, chanting “Protect kids, not guns” in their second protest for gun-control measures after Parkland.
Their leaders said their actions Friday were part of an ongoing fight by their generation to get the laws changed.
“Everyone here is really committed and we are all very enthusiastic about this cause, regardless of the possible repercussions we may face, regardless of the fact that we’ve been discouraged from doing this,” said Bennett Owens, 18, a senior who organized the protest at the school in the Three Village district. District officials said no disciplinary action was taken against the protesters.
Earlier, there was a brief counterprotest of about 10 boys holding signs and chanting “Join the NRA!” but they left while the larger crowd read poems, chanted and observed a moment of silence.
Participants nationwide left their schools at 10 a.m., many observing a moment of silence in memory of those slain in Columbine. Schools across the country — including at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — took part.
Friday’s action comes on the heels of walkouts at thousands of American schools on March 14 and March for Our Lives events on March 24 that served as a platform for calls for more action against gun violence.
New York State United Teachers, the largest teachers group in the state, issued a statement of support Friday.
“We demand that our leaders do more to protect schools and children from gun violence,” read the statement. “Today, we stand with all those who are lifting their voices to declare: ‘Enough.’”
Avalon Fenster, 16, of Dix Hills, an organizer of the March for Our Lives LI student group that held a rally in Huntington on March 24, said the group helped sponsor several in-school events for Friday. “Students found it was more difficult to assemble another walkout and some schools seemed hesitant to participate,” she said.
An assembly was held for each grade at Patchogue-Medford High School, where students could share their thoughts, said Superintendent Michael J. Hynes.
At Kings Park, about 200 students in grades 9-12 listened as a roundtable of political leaders spoke and answered student questions. Attendees included Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and Rep. Tom Suozzi, a fellow Democrat, from Glen Cove.
Suozzi said he was impressed by the students’ drive for legislative action to limit guns.
Student organizers said they wanted to try something different, after doing an assembly and smaller walkout in March.
“Having a discussion with the people who make the laws was a lot more proactive than leaving the school,” said senior Joseph MacKenna, 17, of Kings Park. “It’s really about the youth. We’re not as uninterested and apathetic as it is portrayed. We really are looking to make changes, we’re going to get involved in politics.”