Victims remembered, opposing viewpoints expressed on National Walkout Day

Union Grove High School students gathered on the football field console each other as classmates read off the names of the Florida shooting victims during the school’s walkout March 14. About 170 students participated. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)


By Mike Ramczyk

All eyes were on local high schools March 14 at 10 a.m.

National Walkout Day, which honored the 17 victims of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Florida high school, ignited a movement among area schools, where local students took 17 minutes, and sometimes longer, to honor the 17 victims.

What was intended as a remembrance for the victims also touched on political topics, as gun control laws and Second Amendment rights were addressed.

Perhaps the most prominent dichotomy occurred at Waterford Union High School, where one group honored the 17 victims outside with 17 minutes of silence.

However, another group, which included more students, took part in a gathering along the street to

Union Grove student Jo Fox passionately delivered a speech crying out for school safety March 14. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

defend Second Amendment Rights and hand out literature about protecting the right to own guns.

This group stood along Water Street for an hour before returning to class.

Waterford Superintendent Keith Brandstetter said law enforcement and administration were present and visible for the entire demonstration.

“We had 21 students walk out door 11 to show support for the Florida students who were killed in the school shooting in Florida,” Brandstetter said. “They were out on top of the hill and quiet for the entire 17 minutes and then returned to class.”

“We had a second group of 29 students who showed support for the Second Amendment. These students were by door 21 on Water Street. Their plan was to pass out literature to bypassers on Second Amendment rights. They stayed out for two periods (60 minutes). They returned to class quietly after their walkout.”

On Tuesday, Brandstetter said students were given parental permission to be excused for as long as they participated.

Students held signs that read “We Stand In Solidarity with Parkland.” Also, 17 flowers were placed in a pile on the grass in honor of the 17 victims.

Principal Daniel Foster emailed the following message to district parents.

“The district hopes you continue ongoing conversations with your child about steps we can take as a community to enhance safety at school. Remind your children to report threatening information in a timely manner to the proper authorities.”


Waterford students show their support for Parkland victims May 14 at the high school. (Submitted/SLN)

Passion in Union Grove

At Union Grove High School, Superintendent Allan Mollerskov and other administrators stood in the bleachers, while below on the track about 170 students took part in a peaceful gathering.

Senior Destiny DeVooght stood on bricks above the crowd and read off the names of each victim, detailing some of their heroics in their final moments and ultimately their fates.

Some members of the crowd held onto each other in unity.

DeVooght described a school atmosphere with an increasing fear of potential gun violence. She stressed to her peers the importance of change.

“This is not a Republican thing, this is not a Democrat thing, this is a Children are dying thing, and we’re tired of it,” DeVooght said to the crowd.

DeVooght mentioned how there could be more violence intervention and mental awareness programs in schools to help combat violence.

Nearly 200 Bronco students gathered on the school’s football field. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

After DeVooght’s speech, junior Jo Fox delivered a loud, passionate speech about not being afraid at school.

“I will not stop screaming until those doors no longer have to have locks on them, and we can come and go from this school, unafraid,” Fox said.

At 10:17 a.m., several students came up and hugged DeVooght and Fox, thanking them for speaking, before the crowd returned to class.

On Tuesday, DeVooght described the aftermath of the walkout, which caused a stir on both sides on social media and in the hallways at school.

“The walkout was successful in that it got people thinking about gun violence and the safety of students in schools,” DeVooght said. “There have been some boys harassing students online via Twitter for supporting the walkout or for pointing out the clear intolerance that a lot of Union Grove has for those that are different. I have been working with administration to find a consequence for these students, but so far there is little the school can do.

“All in all, a lot of people in the school were very positive about the walkout and have continued the conversation on their own, which I am very happy with.”

DeVooght has been offered a chance to speak at a March For Our Lives event in Milwaukee in front of a few thousand people.

“My work is definitely not done,” she said.


Burlington High School students wrote letters to Congress and to shooting victims. (Submitted/SLN)

Burlington schools get involved

Led by senior Mariana Beltran Hernandez, roughly 100 Burlington High School students gathered in the school courtyard and wrote letters on tables and even on garbage cans to express support to victims’ families and to Congress asking to tighten gun laws.

Ben Rudolf participated and held a sign touting his Second Amendment rights.

Rudolf said the event became too political.

“If it was about the children, then why were we encouraged to write Congress about stronger gun control?” he asked. “Don’t use victims as political shields. I am sincerely sorry for the victims and their families, and I wish them well, but it’s a mental health problem.”

The Standard Press requested permission to photograph the event, but was not allowed to enter the school, by Superintendent Peter Smet.

He said it wasn’t a “school-sanctioned event,” so it wasn’t a photo opportunity.

At Catholic Central, seniors organized an assembly in Topper Hall instead of walking out of school.

Seventeen different students read about each victim, their hobbies and their personalities, and finished with a prayer.

After all 17 victims were described, there was a moment of silence.

“We are gathered here today, not to talk about the shooter, but to honor and commemorate those who lost their lives to this devastating event,” said senior Evelyn Rodriguez. “We ask you all to please be respectful and keep your political beliefs aside as the seniors share some information on the lives of those who were lost.”

Senior Marcus Robinson closed the assembly, saying students must be determined more than ever and will no longer sit and do nothing as these tragedies continue to happen at high schools.

“This day above all others calls for our unity as a high school, as Catholic Central High School,” he said. “We are called together as fellow students, classmates, brothers and sisters in a school founded on understanding, caring, and loving one another – ideals we are now called to live out more than ever, as it was shown in the Parkland shooting, even as high schoolers we are never promised tomorrow, so live out your best self today.”

BHS student Ben Rudolf exercised his right to protest, reminding people of the Second Amendment. (Submitted/SLN)