ERIE, Pa. — The images of Parkland, Florida students fleeing Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are seared into our minds.
Police say Nikolas Cruz, 19, confessed to fatally shooting 17 students and faculty members on Valentine’s Day.
A month later, on March 14, students throughout the country took part in the National School Walkout, including in Northwestern Pennsylvania.
Now, some of those students are taking their voices to the nation’s capital on Saturday as part of the March for Our Lives. More than 50 students, who represent schools across Erie County, will bus together and share their message for change.
Erin Fleming, 16, a junior at Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy in Erie, said, “People forget about school shootings, because we’re so incredibly desensitized to it. It’s such a common occurrence that we don’t necessarily recognize the gravity of this tragedy and this issue of gun violence, because it happens on a regular basis.”
Collegiate Academy senior Savannah Henry coordinated her school’s walkout earlier this month with Fleming. She said, “We’re not doing this because we’re forced to. We’re doing this because we feel we deserve to be safe.”
That sentiment is shared by Sara Skwaryk, a senior at Girard High School.
“You know, being from a small town like Girard, a lot of people kind of don’t feel like something like this could happen to students here,” she said. “And you know being in a small town, it’s easy for us to kind of get lost in just our own little bubble.”
Some students believe it is time to burst that bubble and have difficult conversations.
“We feel that it’s too easy to get access to guns,” said Henry. “And I know a lot of people don’t like to hear us talk about guns–but unfortunately, we have to; because that’s the biggest issue at the forefront, right now.”
Skwaryk said, “I think we just kind of have to focus more on the problems that lead to school shootings like mental health and school unity and bullying and things like that. Those are big problems.”
Problems that are significant enough to unite youth from Erie, neighboring townships and outlying boroughs to travel nearly 400 miles to Washington, D.C.
“We’re finally standing up and saying: ‘This is our issue. You are creating issues that affect us, and we will not stand for that,'” said Fleming.
Thousands of students, families and leaders will join Parkland students for the national rally and march at noon on Saturday, March 24.
Some students will host their own March for Our Lives rally in Erie with the support of Keystone Progress on Saturday at Perry Square, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.