Bartholomew County residents echoed messages in support of students, not guns, similar to individuals attending March for Our Lives rallies in Washington, D.C., Indianapolis and other large cities Saturday.
The nationwide rallies were organized in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students or staff members died and 17 others were wounded.
Pam Clark, the first of more than a dozen speakers on the steps of Columbus City Hall, called Saturday “a horrible day,” referring to the weather, which 60 supporters braved to support the anti-gun-violence cause. They wore gloves, boots, hats and coats to stay warm and dry from the large, moist snowflakes that were falling with temperatures just above freezing.
Columbus area supporters had planned to carpool and caravan to the March for Our Lives rally at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. But because of Saturday’s snowstorm, they instead organized a hastily called local one for 11 a.m. in Columbus, which drew supporters of all ages.
Story continues below gallery
“How many people have to die before we stop?” asked speaker Beth Vance, 20, a Purdue University student from Columbus, to which the crowd replied, “Not one more!”
The local rally was organized by Bartholomew County Indivisible, a year-old organization which has been working to create a non-partisan dialog on issues of importance, and a sister group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
“We have to have some common-sense gun reform,” said speaker Jenny Heichelbech, a Bartholomew County Indivisible organizer and mother of three children in local public schools. “I hate it that we have to have active-shooter drills.”
It’s not just parents who expressed their fears.
“It’s awful that people feel afraid to go to school,” said Katie Richards, a 16-year-old sophomore at Columbus North High School, who also spoke to the crowd.
Some of her classmates are nervous about being in school hallways or assemblies, where large numbers of students are present, fearing something terrible could happen as it did in Florida, Richards said.
It would be easy for a student to sneak a gun into a backpack and bring it to school, she said.
“A lot of people are afraid,” Richards said.
Henry Thomas, 11, a sixth-grader at Schmitt Elementary School, said everyday routines have changed for him and his classmates since the Parkland shootings.
For example, students are no longer allowed to go out into the hallway on their own to work on a class project, said the boy, who addressed the Columbus crowd.
“We have to be supervised because we’re not safe anymore,” he said. “I’m here because I want to go to school and not feel like I’m going to die.”
Henry plans to also speak at the April 5 “Sensible Solutions for Safety” community forum planned for 6:30 to 8 p.m. at North Christian Church, also organized by Bartholomew County Indivisiable and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
He was a first-grader in December 2012 when a shooter killed 20 first-grade students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, said the boy’s mother, Amy Thomas, a member of the Moms Demand Action group that helped organize the Columbus rally.
“I worry about my kids every day when I send them to school,” Thomas said.
The 30-minute rally ended after supporters walked together around the Bartholomew County Courthouse, their voices in unison on chants such as “No more silence, end gun violence,” “Enough” and “Save our kids.”
The “Sensible Solutions for Safety” community forum will be held 6:30 to 8 p.m. April 5 at North Christian Church, 850 Tipton Lane, Columbus, presented by Moms Demand ACtion for Gun Sense in America and Bartholomew County Indivisible. Childcare will be provided.