Parkland students lead walkouts to protest gun violence

Students walk out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, as part of a nationwide protest against gun violence, Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in Parklan

Pat Gibson holds a drawing of Meadow Pollack, a victim of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, as she stands outside of the school as pa

Students walk out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, as part of a nationwide protest against gun violence, Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in Parklan

Students from Westglades Middle School walk out of their school as part of a nationwide protest against gun violence, Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in Pa

Kaelyn Bracco, 12, a sixth-grader at Westglades Middle School, participates in a walkout to protest gun violence, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Parklan

PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida walked out of their classrooms Wednesday, gathered on the campus football field, and embraced each other. As the school chorus played inspirational music over a loudspeaker, the students chanted in unison: "MSD! MSD!"

It was a month to the day after a former student wielding an AR-15 assault-style rifle strode into one of the school buildings and opened fire, killing 14 students and three staff members.

The Parkland protest was echoed in schools across the nation as students staged 17-minute walkouts — one minute for each of the shooting victims — aimed at pressuring federal lawmakers to enact gun control laws. The Parkland students argue such laws will protect others from having to face the kind of trauma they experienced.

The rally came less than a week after Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott, citing the students' actions, signed into law a bill that raises the minimum age for the purchase of long guns, including assault weapons such as the AR-15. The bill also extends the three-day waiting period for handguns to long guns, and creates a program to enable some teachers or other school employees to carry guns.

For many of the students, the bill was a sign of progress, but didn't go far enough.

"We are here to protest because we know that more can be done, not just statewide but nationwide," said Stoneman Douglas junior Susana Matta, 17.

"This problem affects absolutely everyone and we will not stop until change happens. It's been a whole month and we're still out here protesting."

The students are working hard to maintain the momentum of their movement; they know such persistence is necessary if they are going to persuade lawmakers at the state and national level to take more action.

"It's been quite a journey," Stoneman Douglas student Alex Goodchild said to his fellow classmate, David Hogg, who was livestreaming the event online. "My fear is that we're going to lose the momentum on the national level."

Students have organized a march on Washington for later this month, and since the shooting have taken trips to Washington and the Florida capital of Tallahassee to confront lawmakers.

On Wednesday, many Stoneman Douglas students left campus after the short rally, and walked to a park about 2 miles (3 kilometers) away where 17 memorial crosses ringed by flowers stood.

Sophomore Tanzil Philip, 16, grabbed a megaphone and led a group of students in a chant. "What do we want?" he yelled.

"Gun control now!" the group yelled back.

A dozen girls sat around one for Meadow Pollack, a senior who was slain in the Feb. 14 shooting. Others sobbed at the memorial for Aaron Feis, a popular football coach.

For many, the day was yet another reminder of the trauma that they and their community continue to process, and a chance to be together as they continue grieving.

"We were kind of hesitant at first to go out," said Daniela Santiago, 16. "But it sort of feels like our duty as students and as people who experienced this to do it for the people who can't and the people who passed away.

"For me it's part of the grieving process," Santiago added. "We owe it to them, because they didn't deserve what happened to them."