It started out as a spontaneous protest between first and fifth period at West Boca High School.
Hundreds of students at the school, just over the county line from the site of last week’s school shooting, came together Tuesday morning for a moment of silence and to make sense of the deadly assault carried out by a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas student. Around the same time, the funeral for one victim of the attack was set to begin and Stoneman students were preparing for a lobbying trip to Tallahassee.
After half an hour or so, students say, the school’s principal ordered everyone back to class.
The rest — at least 1,000 students disgusted and inspired by the shooting — sprinted past teachers and police officers, through the school’s entrance and out into the street. They walked, ran and hitched rides 12 miles to Parkland, to pay their respects to the students and faculty that were killed at Stoneman Douglas — and to protest gun violence.
West Boca sophomore Lauren Smith, 16, said a handful of students sparked the walkout by standing on tables and chanting. At about 10 a.m., they sprinted through a barricade of assistant principals and their classmates followed. By 2 p.m., many remained outside Stoneman Douglas talking among themselves.
“Most of us got zeros on quizzes today,” she said. “I don’t think we should have to do that to make a change, but we do. And it’s important that we do.”
Deputies with the Broward Sheriff’s Office maintained order on the corner of Holmberg and Pine Island roads as more students arrived at Stoneman Douglas. Volunteers brought water and snacks.
Students erupted in cheers when a group of three classmates could be seen running up the street to meet them.
Tomas Segnini, a 14-year-old freshman originally from Venezuela, said he was tired but “happy that we’re doing it.”
He marveled that school shootings continued to happen, in America mostly, and that the Parkland gunman was able to purchase a weapon despite his mental health history.
“I hope this never happens again,” Segnini said, gasping for breath. “This is the only country where this happens.”
West Boca principal Craig Sommer, who initially yelled for students to return to their school, eventually conceded defeat.
“This is history,” he said, adding that he supports his students.
Following Wednesday’s shooting, a group of survivors quickly mobilized into an anti-gun movement, appearing on national TV and at rallies, organizing a trip to Tallahassee and even a nationwide march scheduled for next month.
Liam Cunicelli, an 18-year-old West Boca senior, walked and ran from his school to Stoneman Douglas to honor the victims and to “hopefully end this in the future.”
But he knows one small protest at a West Boca school won’t change gun laws.
The hope, he said is that other schools follow their lead.
“Things need to change,” he said. “If all of South Florida, at least, starts protesting about this [then] at least in Florida there might be changes.”