Student — Town mostly supportive of walkout
Though it wasn’t planned as part of last week’s walkout demonstration, Trumbull High students received a message that school violence can happen anywhere when police arrested a 16-year-old student for an online threat to “shoot up” the school. The arrest was on the same day students conducted a 17-minute walkout in honor of the lives lost in last month’s school shooting in Florida.
“It’s crazy it happened, but it was impressive how the police handled it quickly and silently and no one knew until the word was out [after the arrest],” said Jenna Zakhour, one of the walkout’s student organizers. “I was surprised someone would do such a thing at Trumbull High. But yet again, this can happen at any school.”
Police were notified of the incident when concerned students and staff members approached a school resource officer with evidence of the threat on a social media site. The student had made other comments online, in addition to the shooting threat, police said.
Upon further investigation, a photo of the student was also linked to the threat, which showed the student holding what appeared to be a handgun. Police then located a replica gun in the student’s home and determined it was the one from the posting but it was not a functioning
The student was charged with threatening and breach of peace and was referred to juvenile court. The student was released to parents, and there is an ongoing investigation to determine if others were involved.
The walkout exceeded organizers’ expectations, Zakhour said, with an estimated 2,000 students participating. Senior class President Matthew Kuroghlian and others approached the administration with the idea of participating in the national movement March 14. A 10-member student committee then carried out the planning.
“The main idea of the walkout was not to be political, it wasn’t about guns or mental illness, just school safety in general and honoring the 17 lives lost,” Zakhour said.
Nor did students miss instructional time, she said. March 14 was originally scheduled as an advisory day when students typically report to school at 9 a.m. and have shortened class periods. On the day of the walkout, students arrived at school at their normal time and attended three shortened classes before reporting to their advisory class after third period. Those who did not want to participate in the walkout then had the option of remaining in their advisory class. Most students, though, headed for the gym.
“We were surprised by the amount of people that showed up,” Zakhour said. “All the bleachers were full and students were sitting on the floor.”
After Kuroghlian welcomed the students, a student from Parkland, Fla., spoke of his experience of fear and of wanting students to feel safe in school. The students then proceeded outside, where they read the names and descriptions of the 17 students whose lives were violently taken.
“Other schools did protests. Our event was solely honoring those who died,” Zakhour said. “We had no posters and nothing political, just the message that everyone should be safe in school.”
But the students also learned that being non-political does not insulate them from political responses. A social media thread about the walkout generated more than 2,000 comments ranging from support of the students to victim-blaming, Zakhour said.
“Someone said it was the students’ own fault because the shooters may have felt bullied,” she said. “Well, what about Newtown? Did the kindergartners bully Adam Lanza?
Another mother directly confronted the student organizers after the walkout as they waited for a pizza delivery. The planning committee had ordered the pizzas as a thank-you gesture to the school administration and police officers who had provided security at the event.
“We were waiting for the delivery and a mother came in to drop something off for her student, and she saw our orange [school violence] ribbons and connected them with the demonstration,” Zakhour said. The mother made a comment that political demonstrations in schools were not OK, and the students should be ashamed of themselves, Zakhour said. As she left, one of the organizers muttered that it was too late for that kind of sentiment, and the woman responded by hitting the glass door with her hand and yelling that the students were all going to hell. School officials told students she later apologized for the incident.
Still, most people in the community have been supportive, Zakhour said.
“It’s been overwhelming, the experience of a lifetime,” Zakhour said. “Most people realize we’re doing this for a good reason — saving kids’ lives.”