St. Louis students take part in national walkout after Florida school shooting

ST. LOUIS • Students from at least two dozen schools in the St. Louis area walked out of class or held assemblies as part of a national day of protests one month after a gunman killed 17 people at a Florida high school.

The coordinated school walkouts were loosely organized by Empower, the youth wing of the Women's March, which brought thousands to Washington, D.C., last year.

The group urged students to leave class at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes — one for each victim of the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School— and gave students suggestions of demands to lawmakers for tighter gun control.

National organizers say more than 3,000 walkouts were planned across the U.S. and around the world today. In the St. Louis area, events were organized by students in close communication with administrators to ensure student safety. But school administrators stressed that they do not endorse the events and that student participation was voluntary.

Not all school protests in the St. Louis have been the same.

Scenes from the protests in greater St. Louis today included:

• Several hundred students at Hazelwood West High School gathered outside at their football field for a ceremony. Students and staff read short biographies, then held a moment of silence for each of the 17 Parkland shooting victims while holding posters bearing their pictures and names. Students arranged 14 student desks and three staff member desks in a semi-circle to represent each of the victims.

"This is a problem that no one should have to fear," said senior Afua Owusu-Agyeman in a speech to her peers during the ceremony. She told her classmates that effecting change could be as simple as speaking some kind words to somebody at school.

School officials referred to the gathering as an "observance" rather than a "walkout," because they believe walkouts are often viewed negatively, said principal Dennis Newell. Today “is not against something. It’s for something,” Newell said.

• About 100 students at Washington University School of Medicine lay on on the main lobby floor for 17 minutes this morning. The students, many dressed in scrubs and white coats, participated in the "die-in" to push the federal government to fund research into shooting deaths, organizers said.

"It's important, as medical students, to use this platform to advocate for more research into the effects of gun violence," said Eva Archer, 27, of North Carolina, who is studying to be a pediatrician. "It's something we see."

• North Grand Boulevard through the Grand Center theater district in midtown St. Louis hosted three protests within a span of less than half a mile.

The 328 students from Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School, a Catholic school, marched several blocks from their school on Spring Avenue, and stopped on the steps of St. Francis Xavier College Church at Lindell and Grand boulevards. The entire school participated.

Some of the students carried a message that went beyond school shootings to also protest all gun violence and police shootings.

Freshman Andrew Easterling, 15, said he was marching to speak against all of those shootings. He carried a poster he made showing a picture of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy fatally shot by a Cleveland police officer in 2014 after the officer saw the boy with a pellet gun in a park. Easterling said the child had made a simple mistake but suffered "drastic consequences."

Sisters Tia and Ronique Tolliver of Florissant highlighted other victims of gun violence on their posters.

Junior Tia Tolliver, 16, said the posters were created as school projects; students could choose to highlight victims of a school shooting or someone they had lost to gun violence.

Her poster showed 6-year-old Ana Marquez-Greene, who was killed at the Sandy Hook school shooting.

Her sister, 17, carried a poster showing their uncle.

"George Tolliver was visiting a friend in the 800 block of 86th Street the night of July 1 where he was shot and killed," her poster spelled out. He was murdered in 2014 in East St. Louis. Police at the time said the 65-year old man was killed in his car as he dropped off a friend.

"I hope this stops all the gun violence and people will be able to put their guns down," Ronique Tolliver said of the Wednesday protests.

On the corner of Washington and Grand, 140 students from Preclarus Mastery Academy, a charter school, held signs after walking out.

About 150 students of the Grand Center Arts Academy, another nearby charter school, walked out of class, the school said. Those students of the charter school read the names of the 17 killed in the Parkland massacre, and of the schools where shootings have occurred since the one at Columbine High School in 1999.

• More than 100 students at Clayton High School gathered in front of the school under the American flag Wednesday morning. Students read speeches and poetry for their classmates in reaction to the Parkland shooting.

The action continued during lunch, where students registered their classmates to vote and encouraged them to write letters urging gun control to lawmakers, particularly U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who is reportedly one of Congress’ biggest beneficiaries of funding from the National Rifle Association.

Several Clayton students said they want to see universal background checks for gun sales, a ban on assault rifles and limits on concealed carry.

• In the Metro East, more than 200 students from Madison High School and Madison Middle School marched out of school and through a residential neighborhood. Madison police blocked off intersections as the students passed, many carrying signs with the message "#NeverAgain."

See photos from walkouts and remembrances in the St. Louis area below.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.