Fort Worth

'Lock down guns not schools' is the strong message in Fort Worth's March for Our Lives

Thousands took to the streets of downtown Fort Worth Saturday morning to send a very loud message to lawmakers.

Fix our gun laws and stop school shootings.

Students — from elementary to high school — and their teachers, parents pushing babies in strollers and men and women in wheelchairs held signs that read "Lock down guns not schools" and "Protect out students" and screamed "This is what democracy looks like!"

The “March for Our Lives” event — one of more than 800 across the world — was a call to action by students who survived the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead and pushed the gun violence issue to the forefront of America.

"They are scared of guns and they are scared of dying," said Maria Kuhn, a North Richland Hills mother of three elementary school students who attended the march.

Lillian Scott, a 16-year-old junior at Paschal High School in Fort Worth who helped organize the local march, said "it's amazing to see the support that we've gotten."

While thousands attended the local march — Fort Worth police estimated the crowd at between 7,000 and 8,000 — the biggest stage was in Washington, D.C., where students from Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and tens of thousands of supporters rallied against gun violence.

'Hopefully people will change'

Scott said she and a classmate, Lucy Ariola, knew they were going to make sure an event was held in Fort Worth as soon as she heard that Parkland students were going to rally in D.C.

"We got the calling early on to do this march," Scott said. "I've seen the aftermath of these shootings on the internet and every time it makes my stomach turn. "

Charley Goff, an 11-year-old fifth-grade student from Fort Worth who marched with her mother, said the gun violence she sees at schools around the country scares her.

Her teachers are also frightened, Charley said.

"Hopefully, people will change," she said. "They will realize what they are doing to our nation."

Nadya Acha, a 16-year-old junior at Mansfield Lakeridge High School, said she feels that her generation and those who are older have become desensitized to the gun violence that occurs in and around schools.

"It's been normalized," Acha said.

And the people who are making our laws are not working for us, Acha said, but instead are beholden to the groups that are pro-gun.

"Fighting against the pro-gun lobby is not beneficial for them," Acha said.

Jake Harper, a 16-year-old sophomore at Paschal High School, said the march was historic in many ways for students who have grown up during a generation of school shootings.

Harper, who had not been born when a gunman killed 15 at Columbine High School in 1999, said this march marks the first time that students his age have made their voices heard.

"We are saying that we will no longer accept the status quo," Harper said. "The message is broad but at its core, it's simple."

'Have to come through her first'

With sunny, blue skies overhead, onlookers stood on curbs, taking pictures with their cell phones as the blocks-long mass of marchers wound through downtown Fort Worth.

Signs that read "Your kid could be next and "Not one more" and that asked "How many more?" bobbed up and down as the marchers chanted "The people united will never be divided" and "End gun violence, no more silence."

Police blocked streets for the student-led rally and car horns blew in support.

March organizers said about 5,000 stickers that identified people as supporters of the anti-gun violence effort were all distributed about 30 minutes before the march began.

Air Force veteran Jim Gilbert, 76, of Fort Worth, said he came to the march and rally to show his support for the students.

"I'm overwhelmed that our politicians are willing to sell out the educational opportunities for our children for the price of a re-election campaign," Gilbert said.

One woman who collapsed due to an apparent heat-related condition, rested on a park bench and was attended to by police officers and march participants.

No violence was reported, police said.

Karen Jenkins, a 64-year-old sixth grade math and science teacher, said she was at the march because she didn't want anyone to come into her classroom and kill her kids.

Jenkins said she tells her frightened students that any shooter will "have to come through her first."

"When I went to school, the people with guns were hunters and they killed animals," said Jenkins, who declined say where she taught.

'I should not be afraid'

Megan Hieger, a sixth-grade English teacher who works at a Keller elementary school, said she grew up around guns and is not against gun ownership, but wants sensible rules to control access.

"I'm here because I shouldn't have to be here," Hieger said. "I'm tired of looking into the frightened eyes of my students as we do lockdown drills. And I'll be damned if I'm going to carry a gun at school."

Sara Kuhn, a 10-year-old fifth-grader who lives in North Richland Hills, said she came to the march because she wanted to see gun violence in school to stop.

"I should not be afraid to go to school," Sara said.

Sara's mother, Maria Kuhn, 46, said she has three children in school in North Richland Hills, and two of them were at the march.

"When you have to talk to your 10-year-old about playing dead on the floor so she won't be killed, it's not a conversation you want to have," Maria Kuhn said.

Dakota Rudzik, an 18-year-old Keller Central High School senior, was the final speaker at the rally and told the crowd that he has been an activist for two years.

"This is one of my proudest moments," Rudzik said. "Today all of you have taken the first step to transforming not only your future, but the future of every American who has ever feared for their life in their place of education."

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3

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