Wednesday morning around 200 students walked out of class, and school, at Newton High School to demand action on gun violence and school safety. A Facebook post said students would not be punished for participating, even as social media posts from teachers suggested alternate means and different actions.
"I am impressed with those kids," said Albert Swartzendruber, who works in Hesston and lives in Halstead. "And all those kids in Parkland, (Florida), they have guts."
Swartzendruber stood in the parking lot with a large sign that read "Politicians talk and talk, brave kids, rock the walk." He was greeted with requests from students to have pictures taken with him, and chants of "activism has no age."
Journalists were told by school officials they could not photograph students, nor interview them on school property during school hours.
The walkout occurred less than 48 hours after a parent meeting at the school to discuss active shooter training. All Newton schools are hosting similar parent meetings, and will drill students this year.
The walkout at Newton High School occurred about one mile from where Cedric Ford started shooting at random cars on his way to Excel Industries in 2016.
"It is really close," said Alejandra Martinez, a student who came to the Kansan for an interview after school. "... People at our school were affected. It was close to home. It goes to say that it can happen here, it did happen here."
Organizer Gracie Hammond, a senior, told The Newton Kansan in an interview after school ended that Hesston affected her social group and there was no shortage of stories of Newton High School students affected by the Hesston shooting.
It was that, in part, that led to her wanting to help students make a statement.
"The message we wanted to send is 'we need change'' "Hammond said. "How many more mass shootings, not just school shootings, do we have to endure before we change something?"
March 14, students wanted to talk about prevention. They wanted to talk about guns, law enforcement and registering to vote to bring about change.
“When it comes time to vote, whether that be local, state or federal, we must let our voices be heard,” Gracie Hammond told the crowd gathered in front of the school. “Together we must make a difference. … Do not let the dialogue stop. Get educated. When people ask you 'why do you march' you have to be prepared to have an answer. … Look at the names of people who have lost their lives.”
They held signs about gun control, chanted "counselors not cops" and "never again."
They took photos of each other, and posted those to social media.
The school unlocked the front doors for about 17 minutes, allowing students to leave the building — though not to leave school grounds. They were warned at 10:16 that the doors would again be locked.
Newton students were part of a national movement.
Young people in the U.S. walked out of school to demand action on gun violence Wednesday in what activists hoped would be the biggest demonstration of student activism yet in response to last month's mass shooting in Florida.
More than 3,000 walkouts were planned across the U.S. and around the world, organizers said. Students were urged to leave class at 10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes — one minute for each victim in the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
In Newton the names of the 17 victims were written on the sidewalk with sidwalk chalk — as were the names of victims from Virginia Tech, Columbine High School, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas and other mass shooting events.
"We were there for an hour and half, and we had, like, done five shootings and had more than 100 names," Hammond said. "We started writing initials. We were running out of chalk. ... Take a step back and realize that each of those chalk strokes represnts a life lost. How many more of those do we need to witness to change something?"
Thousands of students gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, holding colorful signs and cheering in support of gun control. The students chanted, "Hey, hey, ho, ho. The NRA has got to go!" and "What do we want? Gun control! When do we want it? Now!"
President Donald Trump was traveling in Los Angeles at the time.
Stoneman Douglas High senior David Hogg livestreamed the walkout at the tragedy-stricken school in Parkland, Florida, on his YouTube channel. Walking amid a mass of people making their way onto the football field, he criticized politicians for not taking more action to protect students.
He said the students could not be expected to remain in class when there was work to do to prevent gun violence.
"Every one of these individuals could have died that day. I could have died that day," he said.
From Florida to New York, students poured out of their schools, marching through the streets or gathering on campus to demonstrate.
Some schools applauded students for taking a stand or at least tolerated the walkouts, while others threatened discipline.
The coordinated walkout was organized by Empower, the youth wing of the Women's March, which brought thousands to Washington last year.
Although the group wanted students to shape protests on their own, it also offered them a list of demands for lawmakers, including a ban on assault weapons and mandatory background checks for all gun sales.
"Our elected officials must do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to this violence," the organization said on its website.
Other protests planned in coming weeks include the March for Our Lives rally for school safety, which organizers say is expected to draw hundreds of thousands to the nation's capital on March 24. Another round of school walkouts is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High shooting in Colorado.
Some students in Massachusetts said that after Wednesday's protest, they planned to rally outside the Springfield headquarters of the gun maker Smith & Wesson.
The walkouts drew support from companies including media conglomerate Viacom, which planned to pause programming on MTV, BET and all its other networks for 17 minutes during the walkouts.
— Associated Press writers Ken Thomas at the White House; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; and Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.