NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Hundreds of school walkouts took place across the country Friday on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.
More than 2,700 walkouts were planned in all 50 states, including here in New York City.
They walked out in large groups, chanting and holding signs. Students across the city and country left class to make their voices hear.
At Washington Square Park, hundreds of students staged a “die in.”
“I don’t think that school should be a place where you should be scared or have fear,” 9th grader Daniel Montgomery told CBS2’s Andrea Grymes.
“We have certain guns that don’t need to be sold for recreational use,” said 9th grader Madalynn Mathews.
“I walked out mainly because I think schools should be safe places,” 9th grader Lucia Preziosi said.
“I would like to see more guidance counselors reaching out to students in general, whether they think they need help or not,” said 9th grader Lily Burgess.
“I would like to see legislation come to pass where it’s harder for guns to be acquired,” NYU student Chloe Troast said.
Many students called out the National Rifle Association, Grymes reported. But not all students agreed with the message.
Marjory Stonemand Douglas student Kyle Kashuv put together a live Twitter feed to counter the walkout, with conservative speakers talking about the importance of the second amendment.
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said New York City students who participated in the walkout would be marked absent.
“I support students engaging in these important topics, but they need to be in school. That’s where they are safe. That’s where they created structures and opportunities for them to be engaged and have a good discussion with other students on these important topics,” Carranza said. “But they need to be in school and they need to be safe in school.”
All told, tens of thousands of students left class Friday for protests that spread from coast to coast. They filed out at 10 a.m. to gather for a moment of silence honoring the victims of gun violence. Some headed to nearby rallies. Others stayed at school to discuss gun control and register their peers to vote.
Organizers said an estimated 150,000 students protested Friday, as they sought to sustain a wave of youth activism that drove a larger round of walkouts on March 14. Activists behind that earlier protest estimated it drew nearly 1 million students.
HeadCount, a nonprofit group that registers voters at music events, said 700 people had signed up to vote through its website during the past week. That’s up from just 10 people in the same period last year. Spokesman Aaron Ghitelman credited the uptick to walkout organizers who steered teens to the group’s website.
Friday’s action was planned by a Connecticut teenager, Lane Murdock, after a gunman stormed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, leaving 17 people dead. It was meant to coincide with the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado.
The focus on the November elections reflects a shift after activists gained little immediate traction in Washington — and prospects for their influence remain uncertain. Congress has shown little inclination to tighten gun laws, and President Donald Trump backed away from his initial support for raising the minimum age to buy some guns.
Among those who helped orchestrate the walkout — and the voter registration push — was the progressive group Indivisible, which formed after the 2016 election to oppose Trump’s policies.
In cities across the country, it was common to see crowds of students clad in orange — the color used by hunters to signal “don’t shoot” — rallying outside their schools or at public parks.
Nate Fenerty was among dozens of students who left class to rally in Richmond, Virginia. He registered to vote for the first time at tables set up by students at the protest and said he wants Congress to approve mandatory background checks for gun buyers.
“How many more times are we going to stand in memoriam for another school shooting before our policymakers to actually do something?” said Fenerty, who carried a sign saying “Am I Next?”
Virginia students had expected 10,000 people at the Richmond rally, but only about 300 showed up. Still, those who turned up said they weren’t discouraged.
Shortly before the walkouts, news spread that there had been another shooting at a Florida school. Authorities say one student shot another in the ankle at Forest High School in Ocala early Friday. A suspect was taken into custody. Activists said it underscored the urgency of their work.
Student David Hogg, a Parkland survivor who has emerged as a leading activist, took to social media nearly every day this week urging students to register. On Thursday he made the motivation clear on Twitter: “The only way to make politicians listen to us is by voting in ones that will,” he said.
Hogg was among about 50 students who walked out of Stoneman Douglas on Friday after administrators threatened protesters with unexcused absences.
Craig Smith and Terry McGary, both 17-year-old juniors, said they walked out because they want to show respect for the Columbine victims.
“It was a guilt trip to make us not walk out,” McGary said about the threat.
The walkouts drew counter-protesters in some areas, including about 30 at a rally outside New Hampshire’s statehouse. In Kansas, about 200 gun-rights supporters held their own demonstration outside the statehouse. Many carried signs and flags, and some brought holstered handguns.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican candidate for governor, addressed the crowd and later criticized the walkout movement.
“Instead of walking out of class, why don’t you stay in class and spend that half hour studying the Second Amendment? You might learn something,” Kobach said later.
Some students in Colorado participated in the walkouts but not at Columbine, which has closed on April 20 ever since the 1999 shooting that left 15 people dead. Some Columbine students attended a vigil with Parkland survivors on Thursday night, but on Friday, their school called on them to attend a day of service.
Principal Scott Christy said in a letter to other schools in his district that April “has long been a time to respectfully remember our loss, and also support efforts to make our communities a better place.”
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)