EVERETT — Thousands of students around Snohomish County walked out of their classes Wednesday morning.
Most protested for 17 minutes — 10 to 10:17 a.m. That’s one minute for every person killed in the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
The walkouts at local middle and high schools were part of a national movement exactly one month after the attack.
The student-led events were a way to remember those killed, and for young people to demand action on gun laws, school safety and mental health care.
Everett High School student Justin Zabel delivered a prepared speech through a megaphone on the front steps of the historic campus. Hundreds of students listened in the drizzle.
He had explained the evening before why he felt compelled to speak up.
“When I heard about the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting, it hit me really hard,” he said. “I was like, ‘That could have been my high school. That could have been me that was shot. That could have been my family that could be grieving.’ And I knew when I had that feeling, it was time to make a stand for our safety.”
Zabel worries that bullying motivates some school shooters. He favors laws that make it harder for young people to access guns.
On the front lawn, the crowd of Everett students chanted, “We need change! Enough is enough!”
They waved multicolored signs with messages: “This is not a game,” “I want to feel safe again,” “Am I next?”
Across the street, about 40 adults held signs of support.
Sophomore Alayna Walter had heard students say they didn’t think many would walk out.
“When I looked around, I almost cried, because it’s like, wow, we can do this,” Walter said.
Colby Fitzthum, a sophomore, thinks it should be harder to obtain a gun, and that arming teachers is not a good idea. Sophomore Andy De Luna said the hope is to cause a ripple effect in government because students at so many schools participated.
At Scriber Lake High School in Edmonds, the walkout was organized by students, including senior Tyler Blanchard.
They oppose the sale of military-grade weapons to civilians, he said.
“This is something we know in our hearts is wrong,” he said.
Scriber Lake sophomore Madison Speach said: “People value guns over children’s lives. That really makes me angry.”
Teenagers shouldn’t have to worry about dying at school, senior Clemente Jackson said.
“There will only be copycats after (Florida), if nothing is done,” he said.
Some school districts chose to excuse absences for the walkouts, while others said attendance policies and classes would continue as normal.
In letters sent to families beforehand, leaders of local districts urged respect for students who chose to walk out, and for those who did not. While many students left classes, others chose to remain at their desks.
Multiple districts did not allow news media on campus. Marysville was one of them. In October 2014, five students were shot, four fatally, at Marysville Pilchuck High School, before the shooter killed himself. This year’s senior class were freshmen at the time.
Administrators in Mukilteo also asked reporters to stay off school property, including the fields at Mariner High School where students gathered. Just after 10 a.m., roughly 500 students filed out the main doors, according to school district estimates. At the same time, nearly 900 students spilled out of nearby Voyager Middle School. They walked out to the football field, circled the track and returned to class 17 minutes later, all in silence and without an adult having to say anything.
Mariner students chanted “No more shootings.”
Sophomore Anna Utley helped organize the walkout.
“We are trying to make our little voice be big,” she said. “… Every time there is a lockdown I have to come to terms with myself there might be a shooting and I might die. We just want it to stop.”
The Mukilteo district has been affected by gun violence. Four Kamiak High School graduates were shot, three fatally, at a house party in July 2016. In February, a student at Aces High School was arrested for allegedly plotting a mass shooting on the campus. He remains in the Snohomish County Jail, charged with attempted murder.
Multiple administrators expressed support for students exercising their freedom of speech, but said they could not sanction political messages.
In Sultan, students felt they were being dissuaded from walking out. Some planned to leave the high school campus and walk to a gazebo on Main Street. They changed plans Wednesday morning to avoid possible discipline.
About 30 students marched to the sports stadium, chanting: “Spread love, not hate. We just want to graduate.”
“I’m super proud of those who decided to stand up,” junior Mary Carbajal said.
Junior Annessa Day joined the walkout. The students wanted to remind people they are the generation that is falling victim to school violence, and it needs to end.
“We want to make a positive change, not a negative change, not a violent change,” she said.
At Granite Falls High School, two groups of students acknowledged the Florida students.
Outside the front doors, about 25 gathered so they could say what they wanted.
Senior Kerri Ray said school officials asked her to dial back her speech if she wanted to speak in the gym, so she went outside. She felt a need to discuss some people’s unwillingness to talk about gun control, mental health and social issues. “I wasn’t going to have any of that be changed.”
More than 100 students attended the event inside. Donated flowers were given to students. “You want to keep something like that, it smells so nice, but why not give it to someone else, someone who needs it?” said senior Katelyn Rose, who gave a speech in the gym.
She said a message about communication is important when thinking about the Florida attack.
“Those 17 … who lost their lives, they lost them too soon and didn’t get to have those conversations,” she said.
Outside, Ray read the names of the 17 people killed in Florida. Then she urged her peers to take a stand for their beliefs.
“Don’t be afraid to talk about the untouchable subjects,” she said.
Wednesday’s walkouts marked the latest activism by high school students.
On March 6, dozens traveled to Olympia to lobby lawmakers for new restrictions on gun purchases.
The focus was on a Senate bill to raise the age to purchase certain semiautomatic rifles or shotguns from 18 to 21, and to bring background check requirements for those guns mostly into line with those required to buy a handgun.
The bill also would have created a program to give students a way to anonymously report suspicious activity or threats, and it would help school districts develop an app so students could more easily contact authorities in an emergency.
Members of the NRA and other gun rights groups lobbied lawmakers against the tougher restrictions.
The Senate bill never received a vote.
Reporters Caleb Hutton, Eric Stevick and Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.
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