- Associated Press - Friday, April 20, 2018

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia students had expected 10,000 people to march to the State Capitol Friday as part of a nationwide protest against school violence. The event ended up drawing only about 300, but students said they weren’t discouraged.

The National School Walkout on Friday - held on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre - was organized after the February shooting in Parkland, Florida, left 17 students and faculty members dead.

Richmond-area students walked out of school at 10 a.m., then gathered on Brown’s Island for a voter registration drive and rally, then marched to the State Capitol, where they were joined by Gov. Ralph Northam and others for a second rally.

Nate Fenerty, an 18-year-old student at Chesterfield High School, registered to vote for the first time at tables set up 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 memorium for another school shooting before our policy makers actually do something?” said Fenerty, who carried a sign asking “Am I Next?”

Students who spoke at the rallies described worrying if their school will be the scene of the next mass shooting, practicing lockdown drills and constantly looking for the nearest exit or best place to hide. They called on lawmakers to ban assault rifles and mandate background checks. They also promised to vote out of office anyone who does not push for “common sense” gun control.

“Enough is enough! Can we all agree on that?” said TaQuan Grant, a student at Thomas Jefferson High School.

Lori Haas, the mother of a student who was shot and survived the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, urged the students to contact their representatives at the state and federal level every day to push for stricter gun control laws.

“Ask them, ‘What are you doing about this?’” Haas said.

Northam told the crowd that the outcry and protests after school shootings inevitably lose momentum after a while. But he drew loud applause when he said, “This time there is something different, and that difference is you.”


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