St. Louis teens walk out of class to protest gun violence
More than 200 students filed out of Gateway STEM High School on Thursday to try to keep sustained focus on gun violence in St. Louis and in schools across the country.
The students chanted “No more silence, end gun violence” and “School is not a war zone.” The St. Louis Public Schools students study in a building less than two miles from Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, where a shooter killed two people last fall.
Gateway STEM students said many of them have connections to CVPA and Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, which share a building.
They include Sekani Gillespie, a senior who helped organize the demonstration and spoke into a bullhorn in front of the crowd. Gillespie has two sisters who go to Central Visual and Performing Arts High School and were there during the shooting.
Her family has been affected by the issue in multiple ways; she also lost her mother to gun violence.
“I just want our students to be able to feel like they can be a change because that’s what my mom fought really hard for,” Gillespie said.
Junior William Colston led call-and-response chants as the students marched around the school’s track. Colston has a sibling who goes to Collegiate.
“This is something that means a lot to me,” Colston said. “We should feel safe. We should feel like we are not in danger. And for a long time we haven’t.”
Colston cited Washington Post data that recorded 46 school shootings in 2022, the most in a single year since at least 1999. That included the October shooting at CVPA, which resulted in the death of teacher Jean Kuczka and student Alexzandria Bell.
Colston said he wants the Missouri legislature to do something about the issue.
“I wish they would hear our voice, and that is what I intend to have us do today,” he added.
English teacher Colette Morton said students were looking for three policy solutions — a higher age requirement to purchase guns, less access to semi-automatic rifles like AR-15s and more funding for mental health services.
Morton said students decided to organize the demonstration because more than six months after the CVPA shooting, they don’t want people to stop thinking about school safety and gun violence issues.
“After an event happens, everybody immediately jumps on the bandwagon, right?” Morton said. “Like they had something at Tower Grove Park, and they had other events. But I think it's more important for the events that take place after, sometimes a couple months after, so that people can be reminded of that event and not just let it dissipate.”
Correction: A previous St. Louis Public Radio report misspelled Alexzandria Bell's name.