EVERETT — Kevin Phan doesn’t remember what he ate for lunch on Oct. 24, 2014, as a sophomore at Everett High School. He does remember hearing that a person with a gun opened fire in the cafeteria that day at a school just 11 miles away.
Five students were killed at Marysville Pilchuck High School, including the 15-year-old gunman, and one was seriously wounded.
The shooting was at a different school, but for the rest of his teen years Phan looked over his shoulder repeatedly when he walked the halls between classes at Everett High.
Phan, now 23, was one of about 300 people who gathered Saturday outside the Snohomish County Courthouse to protest gun violence and march in support of stricter gun control legislation.
The protesters were among tens of thousands across the country who mobilized in the second March for Our Lives rally, a successor to the 2018 demonstrations organized by students in the wake of the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
Gun violence has long been a fixture in the U.S. But in the past month, mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, have pushed debates over gun control into the national spotlight yet again.
Firearms have become the leading cause of death for U.S children and teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2022 alone, there have been 27 school shootings and 246 mass shootings in the U.S.
“I can’t even imagine what the kids today are going through,” Phan told The Daily Herald. “I appreciate the rallies, and I am here because I want people to get out and vote.”
Protesters of all ages filled the courthouse plaza with signs reading: “Protect Kids Not Guns,” “No One Needs An Assault Rifle” and “Am I Next?”
Snohomish County Indivisible organized the local demonstration. Naomi Dietrich, the group’s founder, said the goal of the event was to get legislators’ attention and stand in solidarity with those impacted by gun violence.
State Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, was among the politicians and local activists who spoke at the rally. Lovick told the crowd, “If we can’t keep children safe, nothing else we do in this world is going to matter.”
“Change does not come from your government,” he said. “Change comes to your government. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that what we are doing is not working. Doing nothing is not working. Thoughts and prayers are not working.”
Jennifer Bereskin, of Bothell, also spoke at the rally. She urged the crowd to learn the true history of Native communities in the U.S., including the Coast Salish Peoples.
“Something that we forget to acknowledge is that the foundation of this country was built on the genocide of my people,” Bereskin said. “… I come from people who, by legal law, were not allowed to live. It was either to assimilate or to die.”
In Bereskin’s culture, she said, it is understood that trauma spans centuries.
“That’s how we have to work in our communities,” she said. “We have to realize how we impact our children is going to go seven generations forward.”
A counter-protester who showed up in the middle of the rally was met with boos from the crowd. The man used a megaphone and shouted about the Second Amendment. As a result, the rally was briefly halted and organizers turned on upbeat music over the loud speakers.
A crowd member asked a police officer to make the man leave, and the officer said he had to respect the man’s freedom of speech. The officer spoke with the man for a couple of minutes before he disappeared.
After the speeches finished, protesters filed out of the courthouse plaza and marched down Hewitt Avenue, through downtown Everett.
“Hey hey, ho ho,” they chanted. “Gun violence has got to go.”
Earlier this week, students at Lake Stevens High School organized their own protest against gun violence.
About 30 students on Friday held signs as they walked from the school’s main entrance to the stadium at the start of their lunch period. They gathered in the stands and listened to each other speak.
Hayden LaCelle, 16, organized the walkout on social media. At the protest, he spoke to fellow students, urging them to work together and take action.
LaCelle told The Herald that the event’s goal was not to push for a specific solution or political view — which he said “gets us nowhere” — but instead to call on legislators to end gun violence.
“The last thing we need is divisiveness,” he told the crowd.
He criticized “inaction” on the part of elected officials to prevent mass shootings and other forms of gun violence.
“Legislators have had the opportunity to stop this epidemic in its tracks,” LaCelle said. “Yet nothing has been done.”
He encouraged students to call their senators and other elected officials to demand increased gun control legislation.
LaCelle said he was happy with how the high school event went, though the turnout was sparse. He did not let that discourage him.
He said, “Sometimes we have to fight fights with not a lot of people, or even alone.”
Herald reporter Natalie Kahn contributed to this report.
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterellen.