At the Parkland rally, around 20,000 people made way toward Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, including community members still reeling from the tragedy.
Vanessa Marie, a freshman from Royal Palm Beach High School, said despite feeling sadness, she is empowered to make a difference.
“A lot of people are focusing on protecting guns instead of kids, and it is sick, ” Marie said.
For Owen Williams, a sophomore from Coral Glades High School, it was a bittersweet moment.
Williams said that when he heard of the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas, he called his brother to pick him up because he did not want to be in school.
“I’m happy that everyone is here, but I lost my best friend, Meadow Pollack, and it hits home because I live across from Douglas,” said Williams.
The march was comprised of parents, teachers and students from South Florida and other parts of the country.
Grant Ladniak, a graduate student at Roosevelt University in Chicago, said it was special to come down to Parkland.
“It’s a moving experience looking at all these people come and support, particularly in a red state,” he said. “I felt it was one of my responsibilities to at least come and be here. We millennials feel like we tried unsuccessfully to push for more gun control, and it’s very humbling to see the next generation moving it along. If there is anything we can do to support, then we are here for that purpose.”
Miriam Shir, a Broward public school teacher and Cooper City resident, said she felt honored to be alongside people who want safety for children and schools.
“I hope that politicians will work across the aisle with Democrats, Republicans and independents, do what is right and follow the lead of countries that have banned machine guns, such as the AR-15, so that we can feel safe,” she said.
Young school children carried signs and chanted during the march. Among them were sisters Anna and Emma Leffin, aged 10 and 9.
Emma said she did not want to worry about going to school.
“I think arms should not be holding guns,” she said. “They should be for giving hugs.”
Sisters Emma (left) and Anna (right) at Parkland rally (photo credit: Dianne Morales)
The chants got louder as the marchers left Pine Trails Park and walked down Pine Island Road. As supporters reached the intersection at Holmberg Road near Stoneman Douglas High School, the crowd slowly quieted.
Tara Gaines, a Stoneman Douglas junior, said that it has been hard adjusting, and she struggles to focus in class.
“It’s terrible to say that I find myself constantly looking at the door and praying that something doesn’t happen,” said Gaines.
Junior Emily Kolber said the students keep each other enthused.
“We are Parkland strong, and we are never going to give up, and that’s all that matters,” she said. “No matter what happens, we are going to be with each other, holding hands and lifting each other up.”