STONINGTON — Joining the national movement against gun violence in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., massacre, more than 500 people of all ages gathered at Stonington High School on Saturday afternoon for a local “March for Our Lives” rally.
“We lose eight children and teens to gun violence every day,” said student speaker Daisy Williams. “The fear of death is forced to enter into the minds of youth. …We are here to ignite the flame of change.”
Caroline Morehouse, another student speaker, said the killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had left her “enraged … by people who cannot see this has happened one too many times.”
“Memorializing students is not enough,” she said. “Gun violence is no longer a policy issue but a life issue.”
Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, called on the students to use their voting power to force changes in gun police. She pointed out that the 18- to 25-year-old age group has the lowest percentage of voters, and drew a comparison to student activists who had demonstrated against the Vietnam War .
“We as college students stepped up back then,” she said. “You are using that voice and you are going to make a difference.”
First Selectman Rob Simmons, who preceded Urban in her Stonington-North Stonington House seat, noted that this state has some of the strictest gun laws in the county, owing in part to “our own tragedy at Sandy Hook” — the mass shooting in Newtown in 2014.
Simmons echoed the sentiments of many of the speakers in saying that he agreed teachers should not be armed.
“The job of teachers is teaching,” he said. “It’s the job of others to provide school security.” He also said that the town’s elementary schools were being renovated with state-of-the-art security systems.
“We have to look for ways to make our schools even safer,” he said. He praised Broward County parent Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed, for forming a nonprofit called “Make Schools Safe.”
“We’re all working together to bring some lasting good out of something bad,” Simmons said.
Tammy de la Cruz, whose son, Joseph Gingerella, died of a gunshot wound in 2016, said “Connecticut can’t keep just changing our laws when everyone around us is not.”
“This is a federal issue,” she said. Gingerella was shot in Groton as he tried to break up an assault in a parking lot.
“I thank you as a mom who no longer has her son,” de la Cruz told the crowd. “You guys are amazing … I think you are going to make the change we so desperately need.”
State Rep. Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton, Gingerella’s stepfather, said, “I’m not going to let this happen to any other parent. I’m not going to forget about it and I’m not going to stop fighting.
“I need you guys to find your legislator’s emails,” de la Cruz said. “Let’s send our legislators 1,000 emails when we get home.”
“You’re not the future, you’re our present,” he told students. “We need you now.”
One of the marchers, Suzanne Doukas-Niermeyer, said she came to “have my head counted for restrained, reasonable gun ownership.”
Doukas-Niermeyer noted she was greatly inspired by the Parkland students who “have galvanized the nation.”
“They’re saying, we’re of voting age, so stand up and listen,” she said. “If you have children or love children, you should be here. I’m hopeful for change.”
“The gun industry isn’t going to control the conversation,” Doukas-Niermeyer added. “We want it to stop.”
Leo Fowler, 11, attended the rally with his friend Hugo Wustman, 10.
“I just think the NRA needs to be taken down,” Fowler said. “I just can’t stand to have any more children in schools die at the hand of guns.”
Wustman said, “I’m just here because I don’t think guns are worth more than our lives.”
Another participant, middle school student Grace Milne, said, “It’s nice to feel that there’s a chance things can change.”
Elissa Bass, whose son is a junior at Stonington High School, said she wanted to help after the Parkland students got organized, and assisted the local students. The high school organizer was junior Hannah Lamb.
Lamb said the goal was to get the voices of high schoolers out in the open, as well as “a broad spectrum of opinions.”
Bass said the rally was “a great step forward” in determining whether people are “really opposed to our children getting slaughtered in schools.”
HARTFORD (AP) — Thousands of students and their supporters joined other rallies in Connecticut, including ones in Hartford, Stamford, Guilford, Old Saybrook, East Haddam, West Hartford, Shelton, Roxbury, Kent and Enfield. had marches attended by several thousand people on Saturday.
Eastern Connecticut State University student Demitra Kourtzidis, 21, who was in Hartford, said she wanted “to show our strength in numbers.” She said she feared for her mother, who is a middle and high school math teacher, and didn’t want her “to die protecting her students.”