At campuses statewide, students walk out to protest gun violence

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thousands of Hawaii students walked out of class for 17 minutes Wednesday to honor the 17 people killed in a shooting at a Florida high school — and call for an end to gun violence.

They joined students from across the nation participating in National School Walkout, a grassroots campaign organized by young people.

Hawaii students walked out of public and private schools — from Farrington to Kaiser High and from 'Iolani School to Mid-Pacific Institute. Many waved signs that read #NeverAgain and "End Gun Violence," and bowed their heads during a moment of silence.

At Farrington, about 70 percent of the school's 2,400 students participated.

One of them, 17-year-old senior Kelalani Tan, said she was moved to tears by the turnout.

"I was pretty surprised at how my heart was pounding and I wanted to cry so bad," she said. "I didn't realize how much of an impact this had on me until I saw people walking out."

Ho'onani Kamai, 17, called the rally "amazing."

"I was so inspired and I was so touched," she said. "They really respected it and they sent that love and I could feel it."

Those who didn't walk out did so for a number of reasons, including because they had other obligations.

""I chose not to participate because I'm kind of struggling with lots of class work," said senior Kamalu Todd.

The walkouts, which happened at 10 a.m., come exactly one month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Students said they're calling for stricter gun laws and other measures to make schools safer.

"Growing up, we're always hearing on the news about mass shootings and it's not even a surprise to us anymore," said Evan Tsuzaki, a senior at Iolani School, who helped organize a walkout at the school.

Each of the rallies was unique, and many included school-specific tributes.

At Radford, students placed 17 lei — one for each of the 17 Florida victims — at the base of the school's flag pole.

At Farrington, they created a "wall of aloha," where students wrote messages that will later be sent to the survivors of the Florida school shooting.

"I'm here to make a tribute to all the kids that lost their lives, and all the kids that will continue to lose their lives if nothing is changing," said Kamai, the Farring High senior. "Also I want them to know that our school is trying to promote making safer schools for everyone, not just Farrington, but schools across the nation and all across this island."

And at the University of Hawaii and its nearby lab school, scores gathered for speeches and to hold signs.

"To see the youth in our community stand up and take a stance and sort of mobilize and organize that's very powerful," said Hannah Liebreich, of the UH Graduate Student Organization. "It means a lot to me. It gives me hope for the future that we have such a strong presence from our young people and the community."

Several private schools also participated in the walkout.

The tribute at 'Iolani School included lei-draped photos of the 17 victims.

"Since people our age are the ones getting affected by these mass shootings, it's important for us to have a voice, but obviously a lot of people aren't at the age of voting yet," said Karen Abe, a student organizer at 'Iolani. "This is just a great way for them to have a voice in the community."

At Mid-Pacific, 17 students lied down in the grass for 17 minutes to take a stand against gun violence.

And at St. Francis School, students walked with the principal to light 17 candles and recite the names of the Parkland shooting victims.

There were also tributes held at Damien Memorial School and St. Andrew's School.

At Kaiser High School, students who choose to participate headed to the school's stadium for speeches and a moment of silence.

"It's showing the power of young voices," said sophomore Teia O'Malley, a student organizer.

"This movement is formed by teens our age so I want to show people that just cause we're young doesn't mean we can't make change happen. For me, I'm calling to action the students to get involved in issues they feel passionate about whether it be this one or something else."

It's the first time that the state Department of Education has had to prepare for a widespread walkout, according to officials. Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto urged schools to set aside a designated area for students to gather.

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