Wesley Krebs, 17, was walking to his car outside of East High School in Denver last month when he heard a handful of gunshots ring out.
Krebs figured the Feb. 13 shooting was unrelated to the school. Then he learned it was his soccer teammate, 16-year-old Luis Garcia.
Garcia died Wednesday after weeks in the hospital, prompting Krebs and hundreds of other East High School students on Friday to march to the Colorado Capitol to demand that state lawmakers take action to prevent more gun violence.
“We are all just confused and questioning how many times does it take for us to start moving forward and treat gun violence differently,” Krebs said. “All of us have kind of adapted to how things like this are kind of normal now, which is kind of terrifying.”
The students, dressed in red, held a brief rally on the west steps of the Capitol — chanting “no more silence, end gun violence” — and then filled the halls of the building. Young people eventually poured into the Senate gallery, watching as legislators took turns addressing them and their concerns.
“The grief, the trauma, the sadness that I feel — it never goes away,” said Sen. Tom Sullivan, whose son was murdered in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. “There will be a time when everybody is gone and you’re dealing with your anger and your grief and your sadness and it’s just going to be you. And you need to remember that there’s others out there who have been through this.”
During the gathering on the Capitol steps, students took turns speaking into a megaphone, expressing grief and rallying the crowd to push for stricter gun regulations.
The protest came a week after Democrats announced a package of bills intended to prevent gun violence, including proposals to raise the age to purchase all guns to 21, create a three-day waiting period between when someone can purchase a firearm and access it, and expand the state’s existing red flag law, which lets judges order the temporary seizure of firearms from people deemed a significant risk to themselves or others.
Protesters visit the Capitol each year demanding that lawmakers pass more gun control laws. This year’s rally was more emotional, however, because of Garcia’s killing. Security was on hand at the Capitol, as it is every day. The students didn’t disrupt lawmaking.
Phoebe Davis, 16, is an East High School sophomore who serves on the school’s student council. Normally she would be organizing dances and other fun events at this time of year. This year, she helped plan Friday’s rally.
Davis said school shootings are always on her mind.
“In every classroom I have an idea of where I would hide or how I would escape the building,” she said.
Tayler Secrest, 18, is also on the soccer team. He said he’s hoping to see changes come from not only the legislature, but also Denver Public Schools.
“No one goes to school feeling safe at East and many DPS schools,” he said. “We’re all scared.”
Krebs said he wants to see metal detectors installed in schools to ensure no one can bring a gun inside.
During their comments to the students, state senators hinted at the soon-to-be-discussed gun regulation bills.
“Words are nice, policy is better,” Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do.”
Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat whose son was murdered in a shooting, said the students were helping influence policy making.
“You’re here to lend voice to the adults in the room that we have a responsibility to craft policies and implement whatever kinds of systems and programs that are available to curb gun violence,” she said.
Even several Republicans, who are expected to oppose the gun legislation, engaged with the students.
“We will debate over the next several weeks some really challenging bills. They are bills that are about protecting life, but they are also bills about what the life we protect looks like,” said Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen, R-Monument.
The protest coincided with an advocacy day for Moms Demand Action, a grassroots group pushing for tighter gun laws.