WBBM Newsradio/Nancy Harty

Illinois Students Join National Anti-Gun Violence Walkout

March 14, 2018 - 7:41 am

CHICAGO (AP/WBBM NEWSRADIO) — Students at schools across Illinois participated Wednesday in a national walkout to protest gun violence.

Wednesday's walkouts come after a gunman killed 17 students last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Many students plan to step outside for 17 minutes, one minute for each person killed at the Florida school. Many Chicago Public Schools participated, as well as suburban public schools. Dozens of Catholic schools in Cook and Lake counties planned peace-building activities.

In Romeoville, a planned walkout was postponed after an online posting was made Tuesday that many believed was a threat against Romeoville High School students.  Police say it turned out not to have been. 

Superintendent James Mitchem wanted to be precautious. WBBM Newsradio's Bernie Tafoya reports.

"If there is a hint of a threat, credible or not, we are not going to risk it," he said.

A school spokesperson said Romeoville High School students who would have walked out will be allowed to go into the gym with the principal at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning instead. 

Outside the school at a water park nearby, fewer than 10 pro-gun supporters showed up Wednesday in protest. A mother, Mary Callison of One Million Moms Against Gun Control was among them. She blames school massacres like Parkland, Florida on "deranged people," not AR-15 rifles.

"What we’re protesting is the fact that everyone’s blaming this gun for it (the massacre). It’s an inanimate object. It looks scary but it’s nothing more than a hunting rifle," she said.

"Our hearts go out to those poor kids getting shot up in schools by these deranged people that have horrible mental issues."

She and Ann Marie Suter were two women who spoke publicly at the pro-gun gathering. Four men who showed up did not want to express their 2nd amendment views publicly.  

Romeoville resident Bill Startz showed up to protest the pro-gun supporters. 

"It hurts my soul to see what’s going on in this country and our schools. These children deserve to speak their minds without these type of people trying to intimidate them," he said.

"I think it’s ludicrous. I don’t for the life of me understand why they feel the need to step on these children’s voices today."

The gathering broke up about the same time as students inside were ending their 17 minutes of silence.

Meanwhile in Chicago, about 1,600 students streamed out of Benito Juarez Community Academy at Cermak and Ashland in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood and onto the soccer field. WBBM Newsradio's Mike Krauser reports. 

"It's not just gun violence that happened in Florida, in Parkland, it is happening around us, it's happening near us. Students should be able to feel safe at the school they go to. When parents drop them off at their school, they should be able to see them after school. They shouldn't be able to be afraid of 'oh I might not see my son, I might not see my daughter,'" said junior, Jocelyn.

Another student was motivating students to register to vote once they are old enough - and to vote. She said the walkout will make a difference because so many students are involved.  

What makes you think you can make a difference?

"The fact that it is not just one school, but that now it is happening nationwide and that it is clearly standing out now because it was led by one probable student, then one school and now its global," said a student leader. 

At one suburban school, students walked out off class and off campus. 

"On average, roughly 33,000 people every year lose their lives. If that was terrorism, we would all lose our freaking minds. In fact, maybe terrorism should be redefined,  because mass shootings have become a sign of modern times. When do we draw the line? When do we grow a spine?" said one student at the walkout at Glenbard North. 

Some legislators in Springfield also plan a walkout at the state Capitol for 20 minutes on Wednesday morning to show solidarity with students.

(The Associated Press contributed to this copy. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)