Wednesday, June 7, 2023

These students have grown up in the age of mass shootings, school lockdowns. They all say: ‘we’ve had enough’

VIRGINIA BEACH — While a mourning city continues to plan memorial services and dedicatory events, a group of local high school students say they’ll respond to the May 31. tragedy the only way their generation knows how — to demand change.

Jenna Sweatland, 18, said living in fear of mass shootings is the only world teens her age know.

“We’ve grown up doing lockdown drills since elementary school. That’s not something our parents experienced,” she said.

Sweatland and three other student activists Arlyn Brown, Katelyn Monostori, and Christian Kerlick are planning a rally at the city’s Town Center on Friday — exactly one week after a mass shooting left 12 dead and four wounded in the city’s Municipal Center.

Among the dead were four engineers who worked to maintain streets and protect wetlands and three right-of-way agents who reviewed property lines. Others included an account clerk, a technician, an administrative assistant and a special projects coordinator.

Virginia Beach Police Chief Jim Cervera identified the shooter, who died in a gunbattle with police, as a longtime city employee who worked as an engineer in the Municipal Complex. The shooter sent an emailed resignation letter to his boss just hours before the shooting.

Last year, Sweatland along with Kerlick, 16, and Brown, 17, worked together to charter a South Hampton Roads chapter of March for our Lives and said gun violence is a pervasive familiarity for a high school student.

“At school a student took his own life in the bathroom and we were on lockdown for about two hours — it was very traumatic and horrifying,” Kerlick said.

This November will be the first time Monostori will get to vote but she said Parkland, Florida shooting survivors who became national activists showed them their voices can make a difference.

“While it might be the case that we are not voters, we are constituents and our state representatives still work for us,” she said. “We’re so ready to say something needs to get done and whether we can vote or not, we’re going to do it.”

(Southside Daily/ Courtesy of Virginia Beach Police Department)

The students organized with about 20 of their peers at a local church Wednesday to discuss their plans, make signs and write letters of encouragement for city employees.

They say they’ve worked long hours to coordinate a timely joint-effort response with  March for our Lives and Students Demand Action.

“Last night we were on a conference call with each other until 2 a.m., the night before, we met in a Starbucks until midnight,” Monostori said.

The young activists are hoping to catch the attention of state lawmakers, but also of the attention of the community.

“We’ve learned that we can’t be complacent with the status quo and moving forward, we’re hoping other people assume that as well,” Sweatland said.

“But we do need all the help we can get,” Monostroi said. “We are still in high school and there’s only so many 2 a.m. conference calls one person can take. That’s why we’re hoping the community will pick up and join our call for legislative change.”

To join the students in their rally for gun reform, meet them in the Virginia Beach Town Center on Friday at 3:15 p.m.



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