Painful memories mingled with messages of hope and resolve Saturday as thousands of people gathered in Marysville and Everett to march against gun-related violence.
In Marysville, some of the students who assembled at Asbery Athletic Fields that morning had been in the Marysville Pilchuck High School cafeteria on Oct. 24, 2014, when they heard a burst of gunfire. A classmate shot five of his peers, four of them fatally, before killing himself.
Cece Watson, 17, is a senior at Marysville Pilchuck. She was at school on the day of shootings in 2014, although not in the cafeteria.
“We don’t want to get rid of all guns,” she said. “We just want more regulations so we can feel safe. That’s not just in schools, but in movie theatres and malls and churches.”
Olivya Cerdinio, also a senior, was in the cafeteria that day. The 17-year-old recalled running out as she heard gunshots.
“No one should experience the terror that myself and my school felt that day,” Cerdinio said.
The students spoke at the Marysville rally, which they helped organize, and later in Everett, in solidarity with other students across the nation.
Jim Strickland, a teacher at Marysville Pilchuck, was at the earlier rally to support the students and to speak up himself. What happened at Marysville Pilchuck nearly four years ago is still such a difficult subject that some students will leave the room when it is mentioned, he said.
“The students carry this trauma with them and they are just now able to speak about it,” he said. “Up to this time it has been too soon. I’m really proud of them that they are able to have the courage amidst their trauma to speak out.”
A larger and older crowd gathered outside the Snohomish County courthouse in downtown Everett for an early afternoon rally and march.
Thousands pressed onto the county campus at Rockefeller Avenue and Wall Street. Many carried protest signs. Some demanded safety for children. Others denounced the National Rifle Association.
It was the largest political gathering in downtown Everett since August 2016, when then-candidate Donald Trump held a campaign rally that filled what’s now known as Angel of the Winds Arena to capacity, with more people spilling outside.
On Saturday, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin spoke to students in the crowd before the march began.
“As a mother and a community member, I am moved by the courage that you, our young people, have shown,” she said.
Franklin said gun violence in schools is “a public health epidemic.” She called for “simple, common-sense” gun laws. She’s working with Everett police on a city ordinance that would require gun owners to report lost and stolen firearms. It’s part of her directive to address youth gangs and gun violence.
Izabella Babak, a sophomore at Glacier Peak High School, was handing out fresh-cut white roses.
The 15-year-old shared red roses at her school on the day of the student walkouts earlier this month.
“That was to represent kindness,” she said. “I decided to get white roses this time to symbolize peace.”
Saturday’s gatherings coincided with the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. The national effort is demanding that Congressional lawmakers do more to address gun violence, especially mass shootings in schools.
Participants are pushing for changes to gun laws, including banning assault weapons, prohibiting the sale of high-capacity magazines and raising the minimum age for gun purchases to 21.
The movement gained strength after 17 students and staff members were shot dead Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Prosecutors there intend to seek the death penalty for a 19-year-old man accused of carrying out the massacre.
Rachel Gruenwald of Shoreline was among the Marysville marchers. She was a freshman at Garfield High School in Seattle in 1995 when she was shot in the knee by another student. The boy had taken his grandfather’s 9mm handgun to school after a fight. He shot off 13 rounds at the school.
“I made a decision at 15. I decided I wasn’t going to be a victim,” Gruenwald said. “I was going to be an advocate.”
She now works for the Brady Campaign locally.
Other events also hit close to home for local marchers.
In February, Everett police arrested an 18-year-old student who is accused of plotting to shoot classmates at ACES High School. He allegedly modeled his plan on the 1999 killings at Columbine High School, including purchasing a High Point 9mm carbine because it was among the weapons used by the killers.
Over the summer of 2016, a 19-year-old man opened fire at a house party in Mukilteo, killing three recent Kamiak High School graduates, all 19, and wounding another teen. The shooter, enraged over a break-up with one of the victims, used a Ruger brand AR-15-style rifle he bought in the days before the shooting.
The Everett marchers trekked about a mile, first along Pacific Avenue to Broadway, then along Hewitt and Rucker avenues, before returning to the courthouse via Pacific. A coalition of civil rights groups and progressive activists coordinated the event.
The Everett gathering started at 1 p.m. and stretched past 4, as a series of speakers took the stage. There were students, Democratic elected officials and Paul Kramer, whose son was wounded in the Mukilteo mass shooting and survived.
Ardis Hallanger, a music teacher at Eagle Creek Elementary School in Arlington, marched in Everett. Hallanger, like others, said it’s absurd and upsetting that teachers and students have to stage drills to prepare for active shooters. She favors a ban on the types of semiautomatic rifles that have been used in many mass shootings. She also supports more high-tech security measures at schools.
“Teachers should not be armed,” she said.
Marysville Getchell junior Taylor Knocke spoke at both rallies. As she walked through Everett, the 16-year-old talked about how the mass shooting in her hometown made her realize, “This could happen to us. No one is exempt.
“It’s gotten to the point at school that when somebody drops a book on the ground that I think somebody has fired a gun,” she said.
In Marysville, and later in Everett, Cece Watson told the crowd that the time has come for action.
“It’s about guns,” she said. “It’s about the negligence of our lawmakers to regulate them properly.”
She and others were speaking from first-hand experience.
“My friends should have been focused on writing essays,” she said, “not on writing eulogies.”