For 17 minutes on Wednesday, Northland students silently walked out of their schools.
About 100 East High School students laid down on Greyhound Drive. At Denfeld High School, 17 pairs of empty shoes were placed on the ground in front of a group of 90 students. More than 300 Proctor middle and high school students locked arms. Harbor City International School students stood along Superior Street in downtown Duluth wearing signs bearing the photos, names and ages of the 17 students and school employees killed on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Exactly one month after the Parkland school shooting, Harbor City students used chalk to write on Superior Street’s sidewalk the names of those killed in school shootings and the locations where school shootings have taken place in the United States, including Red Lake High School in Minnesota. In the middle of the names, the students wrote messages: “Never again.” “We call B.S.” “I want to be safe.” “Prevent it.”
“It’s a super-emotional topic and that’s why we care so much about it,” said 10th-grader Will Smith, noting the Harbor City students crying and hugging during the walkout. “We’re all the age of the people that died and we don’t want that to happen here or anywhere else.”
The walkouts at Northland schools coincided with students walking out of their schools nationwide on Wednesday to honor those killed in Parkland and to stand for stricter gun control laws.
In downtown Duluth on Wednesday morning, cars and buses slowed down or stopped on Superior Street, with a sole car honking, for drivers to see what was going on as they passed the Harbor City students. Pedestrians stopped to watch the students, asking other adults what was going on. As the Harbor City students filed back into their school, a passerby supportively commented, “Kids are going to do it for us!”
At East, parent-of-three Jane Aas was at the school during the walkout, saying, “How can we not support our kids? Kids all around the country are seeing brutality and violence and it’s becoming part of their daily norm. ... It has been a terrible, terrible time and we just need to make it stop.”
Wednesday’s walkout in support of stricter gun control is the first of three national events planned - the Parkland-led national March For Our Lives will take place locally at 5:30 p.m. March 24 beginning at Historic Old Central High School, and a full-day national school walkout is planned for April 20 in honor of those killed in the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. Denfeld senior Autumn Pohl said a local rally-like event with speeches is planned for April 20.
“Today was to show our solidarity for the 17 victims,” Pohl said. “There are 17 victims who can no longer go to school and that’s why we’re standing here today.”
Since the Parkland shooting, both of the Duluth school district’s high schools have been the target of threats. Aas said the local threats bring the school shootings issue closer to home.
“It makes it more real in these kids’ minds. I think it gives them more of a sense of fear on a daily basis and it raises this awareness that this is everywhere. It’s here in our safe, little, beautiful Duluth,” Aas said.
East 12th-grader Agatha Pokrzywinski said later that the day was about change - in whatever form students believed.
“I’m really proud of what we did today,” she said. “I stood there and watched as students continued to pour out of the doors - they kept coming for five minutes. We were there together, and it really felt like we were together.”
Harbor City’s Smith said students from his school hope the national movement will result in gun control legislation, more attention on school shootings and “common sense things that should have happened a long time ago.” He said he feels “horrible” about the school shootings that have taken place.
“It’s preventable and it shouldn’t happen again and hopefully it won’t because of this national movement,” Smith said.
Harbor City students who participated in the walkout were marked absent for the class they were missing, which is teaching them that there’s a natural consequence for taking a stand on an issue, said Anne Wise, director of teaching and learning at Harbor City. She added, “We’re proud of our kids and the quiet and respectful way they’ve planned and carried out this memorial to the students who have lost their lives.”
Savanah Turpin preferred the period of silence to a more political anti-gun protest. The 12th-grader made a poster across three days with the names of every fatal school shooting victim dating back to 1992. She said her entire life has been marred by such events.
“I feel like I’ve seen a lot of protests that are loud and are about guns,” she said. “This isn’t about gun control. It’s about mourning the 17 victims - 17 minutes to remember them and be silent.”
Elias Lund, a 10th-grader, held a small sign which read, “Rest in Power.”
“They won’t be forgotten for what they did,” Lund said of the students and staff who were killed in Parkland. “We need to put a stop to gun violence.”
Two Harbors High School’s Civility Team - a student group committed to improving discourse among students - organized an assembly Wednesday morning to discuss how the Parkland shooting is affecting those at the Two Harbors school.
Erika Pelach, a 12th-grader, spoke about the role civility can play in improving school culture and reducing school violence.
“We, as children, repeatedly feel we are the victims of these acts of violence,” Pelach said. “Feeling safe and secure at school is mandatory at school - not optional.”
About 10 Two Harbors students participated in the walkout instead of the assembly. Ellen Lerbakken, a 10th-grader, said it was their choice to walk out of the school and it meant a lot to them to be able to do so.
“I did it mostly for the people who were killed and the people who are too scared to go to school because of the things that are happening in our schools,” she said.
Brady Slater, Samantha Erkkila, Teri Cadeau and Jana Hollingsworth of the News Tribune staff and Jamey Malcomb of the Lake County News-Chronicle contributed to this report.