Mikaylah Himmelberger, a junior at Marysville Getchell High School, marches along with other students who organized a rally Saturday in Marysville calling for more mental healthcare support and increased gun regulations. Many students in attendance wore shirts with targets that had “Are we next?” printed on the back. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Mikaylah Himmelberger, a junior at Marysville Getchell High School, marches along with other students who organized a rally Saturday in Marysville calling for more mental healthcare support and increased gun regulations. Many students in attendance wore shirts with targets that had “Are we next?” printed on the back. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Marysville students: Fear of school shouldn’t feel normal

At a student-led rally to fight gun violence, one senior nearing graduation said she’s “almost safe.”

MARYSVILLE — The crowd left their posts on the sidewalk, where they’d been waving hands and signs at drivers on State Avenue. Several drivers honked or waved back.

The group made its way across Comeford Park and gathered around the Rotary pavilion just after 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

Bailey Thoms, 16, stepped onto the podium and took the microphone. She looked around. About 60 people looked back, many holding brightly colored signs with messages such as “More Love, Less Hate,” “How Many More?” and “Save Me.”

Thoms admitted she was amazed by the turnout. She organized the rally against gun violence, inviting fellow Marysville Getchell High School students and other community members to join. They want stricter laws for gun ownership, better mental health care and more security at schools, participants said.

Thoms was 5 years old when 32 people were shot and killed at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. She was 11 when 20 elementary school children and six staff members were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

And she was 13 when a freshman at Marysville Pilchuck High School opened fire in the cafeteria, shooting five classmates before killing himself. Four of the victims died.

After 17 people died Feb. 14 in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Thoms felt compelled to do something. Friends in her history class, with teacher Marjorie Serge, got to talking. The idea for a rally and march took shape.

“It’s these kids’ enthusiasm,” Serge said. “They’re amazing.”

A crowd including students, parents, teachers and community activists gather at Comeford Park in Marysville for a rally in support of increased mental healthcare and gun regulations on Saturday. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

A crowd including students, parents, teachers and community activists gather at Comeford Park in Marysville for a rally in support of increased mental healthcare and gun regulations on Saturday. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

The gathering drew people from Everett, Lake Stevens and Kenmore, too. There were students, teachers, parents and grandparents.

“We wanted to be involved because in 2014 it happened at Marysville Pilchuck High School. It hit home,” said Ethan Martin, 17 and a junior at Marysville Getchell. “Since then, we realized (school shootings) happen a lot … The nation needs to unmute our students.”

He’s not anti-gun, he said. He believes Americans should be able to own firearms. He wants background checks and gun safety courses, along with improved mental health care and stricter rules to bar people with known mental health issues from buying guns. He also supports better security at schools. That doesn’t mean arming teachers, he clarified. He thinks trained security guards and metal detectors would help.

Students also said they want safe gun storage rules to be enforced, and restrictions on who can buy military-style weapons and semiautomatic rifles.

State lawmakers have been considering a bill that would increase background check requirements for purchasing semiautomatic rifles and shotguns with tactical features, imposing the same requirements as when someone purchases a handgun. The proposal also would raise the legal age for buying a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21, and create a program for students to anonymously report suspicious activity or threats.

Several Marysville police officers stopped by the rally Saturday morning. Two school resource officers stayed, patrolling the park and talking with students.

If there were people present with views different than the rally organizers they were so low key as to go unnoticed.

Many participants wore white T-shirts with red targets on the front and “Are we next?” in bold black letters on the back. A little girl with her red hair in pigtails wore one of the shirts. It hung down past her knees.

Jocelyn van der Put, a senior at Lake Stevens High School, spoke at the rally. She figures she’s nearing graduation, so she’s “almost safe,” but worries about her 12-year-old sister and 15-year-old brother. If anyone brought a gun to school, her brother would try to be a hero, she said.

“My mom’s a teacher,” van der Put said. “She did not sign up to put herself between her students and an assault rifle.”

Adults at the rally urged young people to register to vote as soon as they are able, and to stay involved and passionate.

In six months, Lily Nichols, from Marysville Getchell, will be able to vote. “And I’m going to the change things,” she said.

The students spoke about their fear. It feels almost normal when they check their phones and see the news that another shooting has happened. There are days when they’re scared to go to school, they said, and that shouldn’t feel normal.

“Something needs to change,” said Mikayla Dalton, 17, when she took the microphone.

A woman in the crowd yelled back at her.

“You are the change.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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