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Avon Lake teens show solidarity with Parkland, Fla., students

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    Allison Yellets, 17, left, and Olivia Mercio, 16, talk to about 75 students who left Avon Lake High School for a demonstration against gun violence and to speak in memory of those killed in school shootings. Allison is holding photos of the victims of the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla., school shooting.

    BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE

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    About 75 students left Avon Lake High School for a demonstration against gun violence and to speak in memory of those killed in school shootings.

    BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE

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    John Congelli, 18 and Jose Hernandez, 17 with about 75 fellow students who left Avon Lake High School for a demonstration against gun violence and to speak in memory of those killed in school shootings.

    BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE

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AVON LAKE — The first students to walk out of Avon Lake High School Friday morning carried signs that read “Not One More,” “Enough #NeverAgain” and “Be Proactive, Not Reactive.”

Less than a month after a former student opened fire in a Florida high school, killing 17 people before police arrested and charged him with multiple counts of premeditated murder, students in Lorain County — more than 1,200 miles away — walked out of their Avon Lake school to raise awareness of school safety and to call for more gun control.

The March for Our Lives Movement was a student-organized, student-attended event that offered teenagers an opportunity to speak out in a way that has garnered much national attention since the Feb. 14 shooting.

The students in Parkland, Fla., picked up the banner of activism by creating social media hashtags, talking with reporters and lobbying state legislators for new laws. Schools and student groups across the country are repeating those actions in their communities.

In Avon Lake, more than 75 students participated in the event, which lasted less than an hour.

“We’re so used to brushing it off and forgetting about it, but when we forget about it, things don’t change,” said

16-year-old Olivia Mercio, a junior, about school shootings. “We need things to change because we need kids to stop dying when they are at school … We shouldn’t just brush it under the rug and forget about it.”

In some districts, students faced discipline for participating in similar events, but Avon Lake Superintendent Bob Scott said that was not the case with students in his district. The students also kept the event to the span of one class period and returned to the school without prodding by teachers or administrators.

“This isn’t our event. This is their event,” Scott said. “They have a message and we are given them the space to say it.”

Daniel Gray, 16, a sophomore, spoke with emotion as he urged students to remember the victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to be proactive in the next steps for change.

“We have all but forgotten the names of the innocent victims,” he said. “Those students became a statistic. No one should have to go through that.”

Freshman Grace Osoteo said she struggled to find the right words to say, believing she had to find some thought-provoking missive that would leave students with more.

“I just couldn’t do that. I can’t stand here and say I am not affected by this,” she said. “I am scared. You are scared. We are all scared. I am scared that one day I will say I love you to my mother in the morning and it will be my last time.”

Allison Yellets, 17, was carrying a sign with the telephone numbers of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, and U.S. Sens. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, and Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland. Brown earlier this month joined a bipartisan group to introduce legislation that funds school security improvements and invests in early intervention and prevention programs to stop school violence.

Yellets, a junior, said teenagers are always on their phones, so they can put that skill to good use.

“I know we are teenagers and we don’t know anything,” she said. “But we know how to work phones, so give them a call.”

Similar events are scheduled for Wednesday at Elyria High School and Lorain County Joint Vocational School to mark the one-month anniversary of the shooting.

“As a school district, we felt it was appropriate for any student who wanted to observe the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, to do so on March 14,” said JVS Superintendent Glenn Faircloth. “Our high school staff and security resource officer have put measures in place to ensure that the walkout will be conducted in an orderly and safe manner for those who want to participate.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.



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