Lebanon students hold peaceful, silent memorial for Florida shooting victims

When Isabella Ayala heard about student walkouts being planned across the nation for March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Florida high school shooting, she decided she needed to participate.

“I thought it would be really important to show our support and respect for those who were killed in Florida and every school shooting,” Ayala said.

The 11th-grader approached Lebanon High School Principal Brad Shreve about three weeks ago.

She wanted to make sure she and other students could participate without getting trouble, she said.

Ayala worked with school staff and administrators on the logistics, then posted details on Instagram.

The post said students could meet on the football field for 17 minutes of silence, with “silence” underlined.

The 17 minutes was specific to the number of victims in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Her post was shared by at least 40 people, Ayala said.

“We weren’t really working together,” she said. “People just showed support.”

Lebanon Community School District Superintendent Rob Hess sent a letter to parents on March 12 and posted it on the district’s Facebook page.

He said students could participate but cautioned that those who left campus would be disciplined.

Teachers and staff would continue their usual work days, with some administrators and staff monitoring the walk-out.

About 200 students quietly walked out of the school at 10 a.m. and formed a circle around the LW in the center of the football field. Some held signs with photos and information about the victims of the Florida shooting.

All were silent for the 17 minutes.

Lebanon Police officers patrolled the area. A Linn County Sheriff’s deputy stood in the parking lot between the field and Fifth Street with a handful of citizens who stood outside the chain link fence that separates the field to show their support.

Local resident Pete Boucot said he hears a lot of people talk about “kids today” in a negative way. He said he was impressed with the showing of LHS students and students nationally.

“These are some very, very bright people,” Boucot said.

Jan Boucot, Pete’s wife, said the 17-minute observation brought back feelings from her high school years.

“I graduated in 1968,” she said, noting that was the year Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated. “That was the year from hell. This (walkout) was emotional. It made me cry.”

Marcia Stewart said more students participated than she expected. The small group of citizens showed up in the LHS parking lot not knowing if students were going to come out.

“I was glad they formed a circle,” said Robert Gulley, who was there with the Boucots and Stewart. He contrasted the terms “sacred circle” with “vicious cycle.”

He appreciated the peaceful demonstration, he said.

“Defending those who can’t defend themselves – that’s downright biblical,” Gulley said. “Taking care of the orphans and widows.”

Stewart said these events are geared to bring awareness to the issues – school shootings and gun violence.

“They don’t have all the answers,” she said of the students. “They’re bringing attention to the problem.”

The demonstration at LHS was peaceful and within the allotted time frame. Students quietly returned to the building as administrators complimented them on their behavior.

“It was exactly what (Ayala) described,” Shreve said. “They wanted it to be about a time of silence for the victims, to be respectful and not political in any way.”

While the demonstration at LHS was peaceful, some students who were against the walkout took to social media to call the walkout ridiculous and voice their concerns about the safety during the event and conspiracy theories about government and the media.

Adults’ posts consisted of a mix of support, confusion at the district allowing the walkout, criticism and alternate suggestions. One of the most common alternatives posted was an urging to “walk up,” not walk out, saying that talking to other students who may feel alienated or bullied is a more worthwhile approach to honoring the shooting victims.

Ayala, part of the student leadership at LHS, actually missed the walkout because she was recovering from surgery but said she plans to approach her fellow students to come up with different ways they can demonstrate positive peer pressure.

People weren’t afraid to walk out, even though the faced criticism, she noted.

Ayala said she hopes to expand on the walkout and generate momentum for the idea behind “walk up.”

She hopes that will make it easier for people to befriend other students who, for example, eat alone.

“There are a lot of people who separate themselves,” she said.

Using lunch time to sit with someone who normally eats alone, is one way she thinks they can reach out.

Ayala said she thinks the walkout was good for the students who participated.

“It let them express themselves.”