LIVINGSTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A sizable crowd gathered at a synagogue in Livingston, New Jersey Sunday to hear survivors of the Parkland, Florida school massacre speak.
As WCBS 880’s Ethan Harp reported, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students David Hogg, Ryan Deitsch, and Matthew Deitsch were among those who took part in a rally at Temple B’nai Abraham in support of what they call common sense gun legislation.
As CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, it was standing room only at the temple Sunday as hundreds gathered for the rally. The survivors got a standing ovation as they came up to speak.
On Valentine’s Day, authorities say Nikolas Cruz, 19, walked into the school and opened fire – leaving 17 people – including 14 students – dead.
Since then, several surviving students have been leading the charge to encourage legislators to pass tougher gun laws across the country.
In Livingston, local students penned messages of support on a large banner that will first be delivered to the high school as the students return to class for the first time since the deadly shooting.
At the event, Hogg encouraged everyone – students and parents alike – to voice their concerns about gun laws so as to protect all lives.
“We have to remain educated, we have to stay awake, and we have to never, ever fall asleep and become neglectful of what our democracy is, because when we do that — when we forget why we have to get out and vote — these children’s lives are taken,” Hogg said. “But we’re not going to let that happen. We’re going to take this to midterm; take this across the nation and across the world, because our future is too important.”
When asked if he was ready to return to school after what he and his classmates had been through, Hogg said: “I don’t think anybody is, honestly, especially when no legislation has been passed to help these kids prevent something like this from happening.”
Meanwhile, Ryan Deitsch slammed President Donald Trump’s criticism of the school resource officer who stayed outside during the attack, focusing his attention instead of murdered football coach and security officer Aaron Feis.
“He ran towards the shots being fired and he put his body in the way of bullets to save students,” Ryan Deitsch said. “If that doesn’t tell you that security officers care about their students, I don’t know what tells you that they care about their students.”
Ryan Dietsch also vouched for the power of the students’ advocacy efforts.
“I’m a busboy. Two weeks before this. I was at Runyons Restaurant picking up dishes; folding napkins, and now I’m here being compared to the freedom riders,” he said. “I’m very glad to see that we are at this point when we can cause just as much change or we can shake society.”
Also present was Harris Jaffe, 16, who was born in Livingston but is now a sophomore at Stoneman Douglas. He said he stepped out of his classroom to hear gunshots.
“Stoneman Douglas doesn’t want to be known as the last school they got shot up,” Jaffe said. “We want to be known as the last school that ever got shot up.”
Several local New Jersey students attended the event, including Lauren Platmann, who brought a sign reading, “Sacrifice guns, not lives – enough is enough.” It was just part of her message to the victims and to the nation.
“That we are with them and we support them, and that this should not happen to anyone. It shouldn’t happen to them, and it shouldn’t happen to anyone else, and we stand here firm and support that message,” Platmann said.
Platmann attended the event with her mother and a friend.
Isabella Yurman of Livingston added: “As Generation Z what kind of the last hope almost. And like I’m only one person, but like since all these people are coming together that makes such a huge difference. And like the smallest of words are going to be the biggest leaps.”
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) was also among the speakers.
“They are driven,” Menendez said of the students. “I can see it in their eyes.” He held up a high-capacity magazine bill he plans to reintroduce in Congress.
The students’ determination to spark change has inspired generations young and old to take action.
“We’re all going to have to be involved, because if we’re just going to have the speakers here and say, ‘Wasn’t this terrific? And. ‘It meant something to me,’ it’s not going to happen,” said parent Ross Arnel.
Security was tight at the event, and the Department of Homeland Security was helping local police.
The students will now take their crusade to Washington, D.C. on March 24, where they will lead thousands of students from all across the country in what they call, “A March of Our Lives.”
The event sponsors included the group Moms Demand Action.