Masa Al-Azm stood in front of more than 100 of her classmates Friday as they held signs on the steps of the Athens County Courthouse. She spoke about how, after a gunman killed 17 high school students in Parkland, Florida, her English teacher, Ms. Hall, instructed her class on what to do if somebody walked into Athens High School with a gun. Ms. Hall told the teenagers what to do if a teacher wasn’t able to help. 

Al-Azm choked back tears as she said she couldn’t stop thinking about how small Ms. Hall was and how she wished the class could just go back to talking about Moby Dick or whatever the class was learning. 

Since the shooting in Parkland, she said “she can’t stopping thinking about how easy it is to get a gun.” 

After she talked on the sidewalk, she walked back up the steps, was embraced by other students and continued leading a chant demanding stricter gun laws and criticizing the National Rifle Association. 

“Hey, hey, NRA, how many kids did you kill today?” was one of many chants shouted by students on the steps of the courthouse on Court Street.

Athens High School students left school at 11 a.m. to make their way to the courthouse and started heading back to class at about 1 p.m. Though the school couldn’t excuse the absences for the students, administrators sent out an email saying they respected what the students were doing, Aubree Riley, the co-organizer of the protest, said.  

Riley, a senior at Athens High School, said she was happy to hear not many students were left in the classrooms of Athens High School while the protest was happening. 

She was “devastated but not surprised” when she heard about the the Parkland shooting. In the past, she was scared to share her political views, but Friday she took the entire day off school for the protest.

“I’ve realized silence will accomplish nothing,” she said. “Young people have to do something because, obviously, the people who can, aren’t.”

Senior Ivan Reardon came out to the protest because he’s tired of watching footage from mass shootings when turning on TV. He would like to see an expansion of background checks, the sale of assault rifles be regulated or banned, and the age of all gun purchases raised to 21.

He said it was amazing to see so many of his classmates come out and protest, and it made him feel as if he were making a difference.

Riley said she never expected so many students would leave school and protest.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud to grow up in this area or go to this school,” she said. 


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