Vail Valley students to join nationwide walkouts honoring 17 gunned down in Florida |

Vail Valley students to join nationwide walkouts honoring 17 gunned down in Florida

EAGLE COUNTY — Students up and down the Vail Valley will take a walk to take their stand against gun violence.

On Wednesday, March 14, local students will join hundreds of thousands of students across the nation, walking out of class for 17 minutes — one minute each for every student, teacher and staffer killed one month ago at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Personal for Battle Mountain

It's personal at Battle Mountain High School, where threats of violence were scrawled on a floor last spring and students stayed away by the hundreds. Battle Mountain students Ann Avila and Alan Villegas were there and are helping coordinate Wednesday's Battle Mountain walkout.

"We believe that in the recent wake of school shootings, we were reminded of our junior year last year and our safety was threatened," Villegas said, reading from a statement he and Avila composed. "Every day, we walked by our fellow classmates without knowing if it would be our last encounter. We believe this is an experience that no one should ever have to face, especially in a school.

"Because schools hold the future of this country, this should not be a place where lives end."

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The terrible resonance of mass shootings still reverberates in Colorado, where 12 Columbine High School students and a teacher were murdered in 1999. Last year, that attack fell off the list of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern American history.

Change, not politics

Vail Mountain School senior Christie Spessard and junior Mel McCalley say they're focused on change, not politics.

"We want to inspire the Vail Mountain School community to become aware of the significance of the mass shooting in the U.S. and create change," Spessard said. "No matter how young kids are, they can express their opinions and effect change."

"We are focused on making this an individual action. We don't want to push our beliefs on other people. Instead, we want to encourage others to get educated and form their own beliefs, have conversations and create change," Spessard said.

Their voices are nationwide, perhaps worldwide.

"We want to be part of a larger voice with the ultimate hope that we don't forget how important this issue is. We want to influence positive change in the world," McCalley said.

'Really scared and extremely angry'

Eagle Valley High School sophomore Saroja Manickam told Chalkbeat that she has been doing lockdown drills at school since first grade.

"When I read the news about the Parkland shooting, I was just really scared and extremely angry about what was happening," she said.

No one wants to take away all guns, she said, and told Chalkbeat that she hopes to help spur action while recognizing that conversations can get tense when they turn to gun control in her community.

"We're not saying we need to take away all guns," she said. "This is to honor the victims and say something should be done."

Some local middle school students will leave class, but not their buildings. Middle and elementary schools are closed campuses, said Tammy Schiff, the school district's communications director.

Members of the public are not allowed to join the student events at any campus, Schiff said.

Freedom, peace are cherished traditions

"Freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest are among our nation's most cherished traditions," said Maggie Lopez, interim superintendent of Eagle County Schools

Some students will walk out, some won't.

"We want to ensure that all students feel safe and respected, no matter what they choose to do," Lopez wrote.

Schools will continue to hold class and attendance will be taken as always, Lopez wrote. If students don't have permission from parents or guardians to leave class, then it will be an unexcused absence, Lopez wrote.

Vail Mountain School's mission speaks directly to developing character and building community, said Mike Imperi, head of school.

"Vail Mountain School encourages active engagement in our community as a civic duty for our students," Imperi wrote. "We celebrate community service, encourage respectful dialogue and debate and we teach about our political system's design that promotes differences, legal protests and compromise as a means toward forward movement and social change."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and