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'If we keep coming together like this we will be unstoppable': Thousands of Chicago-area students walk out of schools to demand gun reform

Thousands of students across the Chicago area walked out of schools Wednesday wearing orange, carrying signs and chanting “Enough!” — adding their voices to a chorus of young people across the country demanding gun reform.

At dozens of public and private schools from Waukegan to Mokena, from Chicago’s lakefront to Elgin, teens in the city and suburbs honored the 17 killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., one month ago, and called attention to the gun violence that has plagued their schools and communities.

Some students carried signs with the names of the Parkland victims. Others walked out silently to convey a somber message. Still others released balloons and erupted into cheers as student speakers addressed the crowds.

“If we keep coming together like this we will be unstoppable,” said Genevieve Lindley, 18, a senior at Evanston Township High School, where school officials estimated that more than 3,300 students — 90 percent of the student body — filled the football stadium for the walkout. “If we do not want gun violence to define our generation, then let’s make a difference.”

In a highly choreographed demonstration at West Aurora High School, an estimated 2,000 students, more than half the student body, stood in a formation on the school’s football field to spell out the words “NEVER AGAIN.” Although students at the high school were given detentions for missing school during a walkout two weeks ago, administrators worked with students to plan Wednesday’s walkout and did not dole out consequences for participation.

The students chanted “save the kids, ban the guns” and designated 17 students to represent each of the people killed in the Parkland shooting by holding signs, carrying flowers and remaining silent for the entire school day.

“It doesn’t matter our age, we have a voice and we’re taking action,” said West Aurora senior Alonso Cisneros.

At Barrington High School, about 500 students took their message off school grounds by walking roughly a half-mile to Memorial Park in downtown Barrington to host another rally, which organizers said was meant to raise awareness about the lack of federal gun-control laws. Drivers honked in support as they drove past the students who carried signs and chanted “enough is enough” along Main Street. Parents and residents lined the street carrying signs that supported the students’ cause.

“This is not the end, but the beginning of a nationwide call for gun control,” said Syd Bakal, a senior at Barrington High School. “There are teens like myself who are tired of lockdown drills, fear and perpetual mourning.”

Officials at Richards High School in Oak Lawn estimated that more than half of the 1,600 students gathered outside. “Far too familiar are the reports of school violence and the mourning of torn families,” said senior Jonathan Le, who began the walkout with an announcement over the school’s public address system. “The time for change is now. School safety is not a political issue but a fundamental right for everyone.”

In Chicago, students tailored their message to include concerns about the city’s violence.

Hundreds of students at Juarez High School marched out of campus and crowded the Near South Side building’s soccer field. They pinned ribbons to their coats and later knelt on the field to honor the memory of those killed or wounded by gun violence in their own community.

“Now is the time to come together to make the change happen in our society for our future,” said Nancy Chavez, a Juarez sophomore who addressed students at the Wednesday morning rally and called for them to support stricter gun control legislation. “Everyone who is here listening — whether you’re black, white, brown, yellow, whatever you are or what you represent — your story is important. What I want from you is to stand with us and make a change and call ‘enough.’ Enough gun violence, enough bodies shot down, enough shootings, enough deaths among our old and our young people,” Chavez said.

Dressed in black clothing with red tape across their mouths, more than 300 students from North Lawndale College Prep and North Lawndale High School on the West Side left their campuses about noon Wednesday and walked silently toward the intersection of Kedzie and Roosevelt where the two groups met. Several people carried purple crosses with portraits of victims of gun violence. During a press conference later, the students demanded better mental health and trauma resources in schools.

“Living in Chicago, we have to deal with these things on a daily basis,” said Audrey Wright, a 17-year-old junior at North Lawndale College Prep who traveled with a group of local students to Florida earlier this month for a daylong discussion with survivors of the Parkland shooting. “I worry every day about whether or not I’m gonna get shot or whether I’m gonna get caught in a drive by,” Wright said. “As a person with a loud voice and someone with a strong mindset, I feel like I can use those tools and help bring awareness to the things that go on in Chicago.”

Nancy Ramirez, 18, a senior at North Lawndale College Prep, spoke about the trauma she endured when her brother was shot to death a few blocks from the campus three years ago. When she was 13, her mother was shot in their home.

“I’ve lost many people to gun violence,” she said. “It’s like no one’s there for us. We don’t have the proper resources.”

Officially, Chicago Public Schools welcomed the protests and promised that students would not be punished for participating. Dignitaries including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ald. Daniel Solis, 25th, plus former governor and attorney general candidate Pat Quinn visited campus for the rally.

“We support our students,” CPS chief Janice Jackson told reporters Tuesday. "We will not enact any disciplinary measures — we think it’s critically important that student voice is heard at this crucial point in our history as a nation.”

In Chicago, police were notified about a group of students who looted the Wal-Mart at 8300 S. Stewart Ave., according to a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department. A 16-year-old from Kenwood Academy High School was handcuffed and taken into custody after police accused her of obstructing Lake Shore Drive. The student was not charged. She was released about an hour later, said Madison Miller, 17, a senior at Kenwood who helped to organize the school’s walkout to stand in solidarity with Parkland students, but also to call attention to her community’s need for youth jobs and mental-health resources.