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Rochester students lead march, seeking change and safety

After Saturday's March for Our Lives event, participants took to social media to keep the fight alive. Attendees of the Rochester event shared photos and comments on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms, hoping their message for stricter...

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Demonstrators gather at Peace Plaza before a March For Our Lives event Saturday in Rochester. Hundreds of people marched through downtown Rochester on a day that similar rallies were held nationwide.
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After Saturday’s March for Our Lives event, participants took to social media to keep the fight alive.

Casey Johnson, who attended the march and posted several photos via Twitter, commented, "The most heartbreaking part of the march was listening to parents explain to their small children what things like ‘Not One More’ and ‘Never Again’ meant."

Attendees of the Rochester event shared photos and comments on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms, hoping their message for stricter gun control will be heard.

All this followed the event Saturday morning at Peace Plaza where attendees such as Max Spinner said something must be done.

"The government needs at least to try to do something," said the Rochester eighth-grader as he waited in the Peace Plaza for Saturday’s March for Our Lives to begin.

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Asked if he fears going to school in the wake of school shootings elsewhere, he shrugged. "I feel safe, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to take action," he said, noting other students might not feel as safe.

His mother, Alex, said her son may feel safe, but that doesn’t alleviate her worries.

"Every day, when I send them off to school, I give them an extra kiss," she said of Max and his brother, Noah.

That concern was shared among the hundreds that gathered at 10 a.m. Saturday to march from the plaza to Mayo Park, sharing a message echoed at similar gatherings throughout the nation.

"We need to take that fear and change that into action," Century High School junior Anjali Goradia, who started a social media account that grew into the Rochester march.

The local event was one of hundreds held in support of the March for Our Lives rally against gun violence that drew thousands to Washington, D.C., on Saturday. The event at the nation’s capital included survivors of the Florida school shooting that left 17 students dead on Feb. 14.

Goradia said she and other students from Rochester’s three high schools led the local march to show support for victims and encourage others to take action.

"The goal was to share our personal points of view and our prespectives," she said.

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For Goradia, that meant acknowledging school shootings have become a fact of life for her peers.

"I’m no longer surprised by it, and that needs to change," she said, calling for political action as well as local action in schools to improve infrastructure to ensure student safety.

Pointing to last week’s shooting in Great Mills, Md., she was critical of reports that celebrated what was called a "by-the-book" response. A school resource officer was able to stop a teenager armed with a handgun, who had just shot a fellow student, 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey.

Willey died Thursday, but Goradia said reports still tout the response as a success.

"When can we say one student dying is a system failing, not a system working?" she asked.

Mayo High School junior Ashley Phenenger said it’s important to keep asking such questions and sending messages to those who can make changes to protect students.

"Regardless of political parties, we can all agree the death toll has to stop," she said, as her fellow students in Rochester and throughout the nation addressed issues ranging from gun control to mental health initiatives.

Goradia said putting faces on the tragedies can help motivate change.

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She and other students said they were inspired to act after seeing what Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students in Florida did after surviving the tragedy. They said personal messages of grief and frustration hit home.

"I realized we are the same people," Goradia said. "They are just like me."

Heidi Wilkins of the Diversity Council, who helped support the student-led effort, said Saturday’s turnout shows many in the community feel the same way.

"I’ve done a few marches in Rochester, and this is by far the biggest," she said of the crowd, which included students, parent and grandparents.

Among the parents and grandparents was Rochester Police Chief Roger Peterson, who joined Mayor Ardell Brede as one of the few adults on the stage during the rally.

Calling school shootings a national crisis, he expressed a need for change and encouraged the students to continue their efforts.

"Your walk is not over," he said. "This march is not done."

Following the event, student organizers said the turnout inspired them to continue seeking action, which could involve the upcoming April 20 anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.

"It’s so inspiring to see all these people who support change," said Vivian Nguyen, a John Marshall High School junior. "It gives us a lot of hope."

Mayo High School junior Foney Marcellino said the hope was mixed with encouragement in the wake of the march.

"I have never felt like this before," she said. "I can’t even explain my emotions."

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