WASHINGTON — After a national organization called on schools everywhere to plan walkouts in the wake of a mass shooting at an Uvalde, Texas elementary school, some D.C. and Virginia schools quickly mobilized, following suit.
The shooting at Robb Elementary School on Tuesday left 21 people, including 19 children, dead in what is now considered the deadliest school shooting in Texas history. Just days before the massacre, an FBI report said that active shooter incidents have increased by 52.5% since 2020 and by 96.8% since 2017.
The youth activist group Students Demand Action called for students across the country to walk out of their classrooms at noon EST on Thursday.
"How many more kids have to die in our schools before our lawmakers act," organizers wrote on the group's website, which is the student arm of the organization Everytown for Gun Safety. "We deserve to learn and live without fear, but thanks to our weak gun laws and the gun lobby's relentless 'guns everywhere' agenda, nowhere is safe."
At least four schools in the region saw student walkouts, including McLean High School in Fairfax County. About 200 students briefly walked out carrying signs and chanting, "Will We Be Next?"
"We will have our voices be heard and not let politicians get away with any more thought and prayers without action,” student Ava Libertore told the crowd over a bullhorn.
Bennett Brunner, 16, told the crowd there is a "new normalcy of loss of life" that can not be tolerated.
“Every time I see those headlines, it's just crazy to think that it could happen at any school," Brunner said. "Definitely all the students here felt that and that's why we see such a big crowd today, because it's not some fantasy issue. It's not just politics. It's affecting our daily lives and our security.”
Students at Meridian High School in Falls Church, Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville and Janney Elementary in Northwest, D.C. also participated. Organizers arranged for students to wear orange -- the color chosen by Everytown to represent gun violence victims nationally -- or make posters in a show of their solidarity with Robb Elementary and in an effort to pressure lawmakers.
The organizers include those who have survived school shootings, like Mia Tretta, who was shot by a classmate three years ago at her high school in Santa Clarita, California. Two of her classmates died and two others were injured.
"Even though my friends died and I got shot, nothing has happened yet," she said Wednesday.
Gun law reform advocates are also planning a second "March for Our Lives" protest in D.C. on June 11. Four years ago, the organization and its supporters filled the streets of D.C. while thousands joined voices to demand real answers to an epidemic of gun violence. The student-led march took place on March 24, 2018, a little more than a month after a deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Organizers posted to social media that a march to demand gun control legislation and universal background checks from lawmakers was planned for June 11, 2022.
"Together, we rose up 4 years ago. 1 million of us demanded change. We built a movement. We voted for new leaders. And the gun deaths increased," the organization said on its Twitter page. "Now is the moment we march again."