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Thousands Of San Diego Students Walk Out In Protest Of Gun Violence

Two Patrick Henry High School students hug during the #NationalWalkoutDay eve...

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: Two Patrick Henry High School students hug during the #NationalWalkoutDay event at the school, March 14, 2017.

Thousands of San Diego County students walked out of classes Wednesday morning as part of a nationwide action to honor the 17 people killed in last month's school shooting in Florida and urge federal action to curb gun violence.

More than 2,500 walkouts planned across the nation got underway early Wednesday as students on the East Coast began to mark the one-month anniversary of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Most local demonstrations began at 10 a.m. and were expected to continue for 17 minutes — one for every person who died in Parkland. More than three dozen walkouts were planned in San Diego County.

Some school districts, including San Diego Unified, worked with students ahead of time to support the events.

The district promoted the "positive" demonstration planned at Patrick Henry High School in San Carlos, which included a moment of silence, speeches from student leaders and a reading of a poem penned by one of the Parkland shooting victims.

"Look up from your cell phones, your Snapchat, your texts. Look up from your history notes and your math homework. Look up from your college apps (sic). Look up from the soccer field. Look up from the stage. And look up and look at each other," said 17-year-old Patrick Henry senior Stephanie Zappelli in a prepared speech at the walkout. "For just a moment, make community your priority. Let us reach out and welcome those who are isolated so they don't feel compelled to take up arms against us.

"This fight is about more than taking away guns; it's about taking away the reason to pull the trigger," she said.

Hundreds of students, many dressed in black and holding signs, filled the school's quad to hear the speech. Beside them, a memorial was set up featuring 17 white folding chairs placed in a circle, with a red rose lying across each chair. Taped to each chair back was a photograph with the name of a Parkland victim.

RELATED: For San Diego Students, School Walkout Is A Warm-Up For The Ballot Box

Photo by Megan Burks

Patrick Henry High School students gather for #NationalWalkoutday, March 14, 2018.

At El Camino High School, students set up a memorial for the Parkland victims on the grass outside a classroom. Seventeen stakes were driven into the ground, with the photos and names of each victim attached. Below the photos, students laid out 14 backpacks for the students, each one with a personalized touch, like soccer balls for the victims who played soccer, a basketball for a hoops star and pom poms for a Parkland cheerleader. A football and an apple was placed by the photo of Parkland football coach and educator Chris Hixon.

At Hoover High School in City Heights, students planned to read a list of the victims names. The Junior ROTC was also slated to make an appearance.

"I decided that the best course of action was to start a dialogue with our students," Hoover Principal Jason Babineau told The San Diego Union- Tribune. "Ultimately, I believe this is a great opportunity for our students to show the world and the community they have a voice."

Parents of local students and other residents will show their support of the movement at an after-school rally in San Elijo Town Square in San Marcos. There, local candidates are expected to speak and participants will call on the San Marcos School Board to pass a resolution against gun violence.

San Diego County Sheriff's Department officials said they were aware of the walkouts and supported the students' right to express themselves in a peaceful and respectful manner.

"We would ask that students and administrators communicate with their local law enforcement particularly if they will be leaving campus to ensure their safety navigating roadways and the well-being of drivers and pedestrians," the department's statement said. "For our students: Please respect the instructions of school officials and if you hear any threats of violence or even potential violence, we encourage you to talk to one of our Sheriff's School Resource Deputies. The Sheriff's Department takes every threat seriously."

High schoolers weren't the only students participating in the walkout. Southwestern College's Associated Student Organization sent a Tweet asking for Southwestern students to take part in the walkout. In the message that was retweeted by Southwestern College's official account, the organization asked that students wear orange and walk out for 17 minutes to honor the Parkland victims.

At Patrick Henry High School, student organizers planned more opportunities throughout the week for students to take action. They were invited to put their thumb prints on a poster as a sign they'll take action to curb gun violence. They'll also sign a banner that will be sent to students at the Florida school.

The students also plan to make available during lunchtime this week a list of mental health resources, list of elected officials' contact information and voter registration assistance.

"To our government, the adults who are supposed to be working together to protect us, you have allowed this cycle to continue long enough," said 17-year-old Patrick Henry senior Ashlee Watson. "If you fail to do your duty to protect us, we will do everything we can do to protect each other.

"We didn't come this far to only come this far. We came this far to demand change. We came this far because we are strong, powerful, fearless. And we came this far to ensure that you can see we're not afraid to go further," she said.

Photo by Megan Burks

Ashlee Watson, a Patrick Henry High School student, speaks during the #NationalWalkoutDay event at the school, March 14, 2018.

After the program, students filed back into class as student leaders handed them fliers for the March For Our Lives event at Waterfront Park downtown March 24.

Teachers and staff who remained in the quad told members of the media they were proud to have witnessed such a well-organized and passionate showing of civic engagement by their students.

Thousands of San Diego County students walked out of classes Wednesday morning as part of a nationwide action to honor the 17 people killed in last month's school shooting in Florida and urge federal action to curb gun violence.

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