In the wake of a mass shooting that left three University of Virginia students dead and two injured, about 150 Buford Middle School students walked out of their classes Friday afternoon to protest gun violence.
“Police are able to keep people outside of school and hurt people that don’t deserve to be hurt, but they can’t keep us safe in school. It’s not fair at all,” said eighth grader Amelia Morrison, an organizer of the walkout. “We deserve to feel safe.”
The students also were protesting a fake active shooter call Tuesday morning at Walker Upper Elementary School, which some Buford students had attended only a year or two earlier. The hoax came a mere 36 hours after three University of Virginia football players were shot dead late Sunday night and led to kids hiding under their desks in fear.
Such threats, called swattings, have become all too routine to many students in Charlottesville.
Buford was the target of two swattings within a month of each other just this semester, and Charlottesville City Schools has had four swattings since September.
Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools both canceled class on Monday, as UVa remained under an order to shelter-in-place as police searched buildings after the shooting deaths of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry.
For Zip and Amelia, that meant they stayed inside all day.
“That made me feel concerned for my safety,” Amelia said. She told the Daily Progress her mother made her stay in the house.
Other students expressed concerns Friday that the fake active shooter calls were leading students to take the threat of gun violence less seriously.
“I feel like a lot of students take it as a joke because it hasn’t happened near us. And then on Sunday night, it happened near us,” said Zip Kalergis, an eighth grader who helped Amelia plan the walkout.
“Kids have been talking about guns, kids have been talking about shooting up the school,” Zip said. She and Amelia read students making jokes about school shootings online and heard it in person—even during lockdown drills, Amelia said.
“They’re joking about it being like ‘Oh, I bet it’s this kid,’ like, ‘Oh, we’re about to get shot up,’” Amelia said.
The students who walked out at Buford did take it seriously. After organizers spoke, students held a three-minute moment of silence. Then, those gathered clamored at the opportunity to make their voices heard.
“Stop gun violence!” one student shouted. Her peers erupted into applause.
Another student approached the microphone to speak: “Parents need to protect their kids and not their guns.”
One of the student organizers, an eighth grader named Charles Bailey, recalled the Sept. 20 lockdown at Buford that followed a swatting.
“The first lockdown, I was pretty worried because I saw the cops and all,” Charles said. He didn’t hear an announcement and was walking down the hall when a teacher pulled him into her classroom.
Buford’s principal, Rodney Jordan, said the school had been working on how it communicates lockdowns to students. School officials typically announce them via intercom, but they want to find a different way to alert students, faculty and staff.
“We don’t want students or staff thinking every time they hear the beeps that, ‘Oh no, is this another time that the police are here?’” Jordan said.
Most Buford students are between the ages of 12 and 14. The younger students have lived through 232 school shootings, according to a database compiled by the Washington Post.
“This has been important to me my whole life,” said eighth grader Evelyn Campbell.
Amelia urged her fellow students to seek help if they needed it.
“There’s people who will gladly listen to you. Go and talk to someone if you’re feeling aggressive,” she said.
It had been a difficult week for Charlottesville and the UVa community, but Charles said he was doing alright.
“I’m handling it good. I’m just hoping we get a change these days.”