Colorado Mass Shooting Victims Say They Don't Want to Be Used as Political Props

Photo: David Zalubowski/AP

On Wednesday night a group of students walked out of a vigil held to honor the victims of this week’s shooting at a school in Highlands Ranch, CO, according to ABC. A group of students grew frustrated with the tone of the speakers at the event and felt their voices weren’t being heard.

The vigil, organized by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Team Enough, intended to honor the victims of a shooting at STEM School earlier this week. Kendrick Castillo, 18, was killed as he tried to stop one of the two shooters. Several other were injured.

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“When I see the people that he saved, it made me happy,” Castillo’s father, John Castillo, told ABC. “I knew my son wouldn’t have it any other way. But as any parent would tell you, ‘It’s a heck of a trade-off.’”

Speeches at the vigil included appearances from local politicians like Rep. Jason Crow and Sen. Michael Bennet, who is running for president in the 2020 Democratic primary.

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“I know our kids already have enough to do, they have a job to do when they come to school, you have a job to do when you come to school,” Bennet, who was formerly the Superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, said at the vigil. “Their job is not to fix America’s broken gun laws. Their job is not, as Kendrick so selflessly did yesterday, to give up their own life to save their classmates lives. Or the teachers’ lives. That’s not their job.”

“You sent me to Washington to speak the truth. So here it iswe are failing. We are failing when this happens over and over and over and over again and nothing happens,” Crow said during his speech. “You already have my thoughts and prayers, but you deserve and should demand more. Because to only send thoughts and prayers when you’re a member of Congress or when you’re in a position to take action and to affect change, it is empty, it is hollow, and you and your children deserve more.”

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At some point during the vigil, students began to express frustration that they were not being allowed to speak and that the subject of the speeches were turning away from honoring the victims. One student in the audience shouted “Let STEM kids speak!” Others walked out of the vigil and gathered outside, chanting “mental health.”

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One mother who got up to speak alleged that the media had sent STEM students in attendance outside, which students later debated, saying they walked out voluntarily.

“It was a very emotional night, which I completely understand, these are students that had just gone through a horrific tragedy... And it became apparent halfway through the event that they weren’t being given an opportunity to speak,” Crow told ABC after the event.

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“So they stood up, as they should have, and demanded an opportunity to speak, and I supported that. I stayed late until every student was heard and had their opportunity to tell us how they felt about this issue and just express that emotion. So it was really important that we keep the focus on the students,” he added.

After the walkout, students re-entered the vigil and spoke about their frustrations.

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“What happened at STEM is awful, but it’s not a statistic. We can’t be used for a reason for gun control. We are people, not a statement,” one student said at the vigil, according to 9News.

We wanted Kendrick to be mourned, we wanted all of you to join us in that mourning, but that was not allowed here,” another student said. “We all walked out, we were not kicked out despite what you have heard. And we are back now to tell you that we love Kendrick and we love all of the survivors.”

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On Thursday, the Brady Campaign issued an apology for the tone of the event.

“We are here to lift up the voices of victims and survivors... We are deeply sorry any part of this vigil did not provide the support, caring and sense of community we sought to foster and facilitate and which we know is so crucial to communities who suffer the trauma of gun violence,” the organization said in a statement.

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