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Jennfier Hewitson stands outside of San Dieguito High School Academy in support of National Walkout Day on Wednesday morning in Encinitas. Photo by Shana Thompson
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STANDING UP, WALKING OUT: Students across North County protest gun violence on campus

REGION — Protesting gun violence on school campuses, millions of students made their voices heard on March 14 as part of National Walkout Day.

Organized nationally by the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER movement, the protest called for students to leave class at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes to honor the 17 students killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14. on the one-month anniversary of the shooting.

Across North County, meanwhile, students organized and joined in the protest in support of the movement and victims and survivors of Parkland.

Stefanie DuMont holds up a sign near the parking lot of San Dieguito High School Academy on Wednesday morning in Encinitas. Photo by Shana Thompson

At Carlsbad High School, hundreds, if not more than 1,000 students, poured out on to the football field listening as several student organizers spoke about the tragedy, gun violence and the lack of political resolve to address the issue. The students filed into the stadium in a calm and orderly fashion, then returned to class.

Dillan Krichbaum, an 18-year-old senior and president of the Democratic club, said he was motivated to speak because of media coverage claiming some of the survivors from the Parkland shooting were labeled “crisis actors.”

“I felt like if I had such power I had to use it to speak out against gun violence,” Krichbaum said. “I was sitting at home hearing the sort of things people were saying to the kids — the survivors of the Parkland shooting — calling them things like crisis actors and (saying) they are too young to know what proper solutions we need. I figure that I would try and join the same kind of movement they started and use my voice to speak out against these things.”

Junior Kate Ellis, 16, said something has to change and she is growing more frustrated with elected officials who “do nothing.”

She said she has drawn inspiration from the students in Parkland who have spoken out against gun violence and the need for assault weapons, to new a few issues. The result of those students speaking loud and vociferously has changed the national discussion, Ellis said, and is putting more pressure on elected officials to address the issue of gun violence in schools.

“I think it’s amazing they have taken such a stand on this … and (are) so willing to go against all the lawmakers and their decisions,” she said of the Parkland students. “I think this is something that needs to be changed and that it’s enough of having to just sit here and watch our leaders do nothing. Our generation can make a change.”

Numerous students at Carlsbad High School also displayed signs, while one speaker noted Carlsbad is no stranger to a school shooting. The unidentified student reminded the crowd of the 2010 incident at Kelly Elementary School, where a gunman opened fire into a crowd of 230 children, injuring two, before the shooter was subdued.

At San Dieguito High School Academy, as more than 400 students streamed into the amphitheater area for the National Walkout Day activities, a group of parents and demonstrators gathered outside of the school’s parking lot, holding signs and cheering in solidarity.

The San Dieguito Union High School District was one of a handful across the county to bar both media and adults from coming on campus for the demonstrations.

As echoes of applause sounded from the congregated throng and passersby honked their horns to show their approval, demonstrators stood stoically for 17 minutes, observing a minute-long moment of silence for each of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

Before the moment of silence commenced, several of the demonstrators said it was important to show the students that they supported their message and their voices.

“It’s incredibly important to validate what the kids are doing and make them know that we’ve got their back,” said former Encinitas Mayor Teresa Barth, who was among the 30 demonstrators.

Mim Michelove, a parent and employee of the Encinitas Union School District, agreed.

“I think it’s civic engagement at its best,” she said. “If it’s what we are teaching our children, the least we can do is support them. These children are literally fighting for their lives.”

At Canyon Crest Academy, students reported that as many as 1,000 students filled the quad area for the demonstration.

They listened to one of their peers, who was previously a student at the Parkland, Florida, high school, took time to meet 17 new people, and then observed a 17-second moment of silence.

“It was incredibly powerful,” said Theo Zelkind, a 17-year-old junior who helped organize the walkout.

Zelkind said it was important for students to send a message loud and clear to lawmakers as they delve into the arena of gun safety and gun control.

“Not only is it a matter of principle, but also we are the next generation of voters,” Zelkind said. “If politicians want to stay in office, they need to listen to what we want.”

Zelkind scoffed at the notion of some opponents of the walkout that students can’t comprehend the complexity of the gun-control debate.

“If anyone is going to know what’s going on, it’s students who are taking classes every day on how our government works and are more versed on it than some would give us credit for,” Zelkind said. “We are very passionate about seeing our lives turn out well, and I know that this generation is not the type to sit back and let others do things for us.”

High schoolers weren’t the only ones who participated in walkout activities. At Paul Ecke Central, parents were allowed to briefly take their students out of school and observe the walkout independently. A group of more than a dozen children spent the 17 minutes penning letters to U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) asking for more gun control and to abandon plans to arm teachers.

Mason Banks wrote in his letter than he believed the U.S. needed more gun control.

“We need your help,” he wrote. “There have been shootings all over the world and we need to stop it.”