On Wednesday afternoon, students walked out of class at Bethel Regional High School to raise awareness about school shootings and to demand stricter gun laws. Community members, parents, and former school staff joined them. The demonstration lasted 17 minutes, one minute for each person killed in the Parkland, Florida school shooting two weeks ago.
To leave the building you have to pass two pictures: one of a smiling young boy, and the other of a white-haired man. Sophomore Josh Palacios and Principal Ron Edwards were killed in the Bethel school shooting 21 years ago in 1997.
Holding handmade signs and wearing orange ribbons, the Bethel students walked past the pictures as they left the building and made their way out into the snow. Bethel Regional High School isn’t a place where a shooting could happen; it’s a place where people hope it doesn’t happen again.
“Kids do not need to go to school in fear of their lives,” walkout organizer Kelly O’Brien said. O’Brien is a senior at the school. “Teachers don’t need to be holding weapons, and everyone deserves to be safe and educated.”
BRHS class president Tierney McCormick stood by O’Brien’s side and addressed the approximately 100 students who walked out with them.
“This is also our first step,” McCormick said. “Unless we continue to push for change, nothing is going to happen. So it’s really up to you to make sure that we keep pushing.”
During the walkout, Garrett Lieb stood next to his daughter, Farrah Lieb, a senior at BRHS.
“When I seen on the news what happened in Florida, it brought up what happened here in Bethel to me. It all came back,” Lieb said.
Garrett Lieb was working at the Bethel school during the 1997 Bethel shooting, and he hid kids who were running for their lives in a warehouse beside the building. The Bethel shooter used a .12-gauge shotgun; recent school gunmen have used semi-automatic rifles. Lieb wants those rifles banned.
“Those are killing machines,” Lieb said. “We got guns to get our moose and caribou and stuff like that, but nobody needs guns like that out anywhere.”
Reyne Athanas was also working at the Bethel school in 1997. The day of the deaths, she told the shooter, student Evan Ramsey, to put down his gun. At the walkout, Athanas urged students to write letters demanding gun reform, and handed out the addresses and phone numbers of Alaska’s congressional delegation.
“They might not think you can vote now, but you will vote one day,” Athanas told the students.
With two minutes left of the demonstration, organizer Kelly O’Brien quieted the crowd.
“Let’s all have a moment of silence,” O’Brien said, “for not only the Parkland shooting victims, but the shooting victims from our school and all the other shooting victims across the U.S.”