Students report anti-gun protests at Naples High, Barron Collier High and Immokalee High
Students at Naples High School walked out of classrooms on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 as part of an anti-gun protest Wochit
Students at Barron Collier High School, Naples High School and Immokalee High School staged walkouts Wednesday to protest gun violence.
At Barron Collier, about 200 students gathered in a circle on the football field around noon, according to videos of the event and students who participated. One by one, about 15 students made their way to the center of the circle to voice their concerns.
The event was originally planned as a silent 17-minute protest to commemorate each of the 17 Parkland shooting victims, participants said. But as more students who were unaware of the plan joined, the group became louder.
A small number of students heckled the speakers and shouted conservative messages about abortion, students said.
According to Barron Collier senior Emma Avros, 17, the heckling angered many students and inspired them to speak out.
Students spoke about gun control, mental health and the need for change, she said.
After noticing nobody had spoken about the importance of voting, Emma took to the center of the circle and reminded the crowd, many of whom were seniors, that midterm elections were approaching.
"I felt like my presence wasn't enough. I had to do something," she said. "I couldn't let the rally end without telling them the best way to make your voice heard is to vote."
Students said there were many faculty members and law enforcement officers in attendance, and the rally ended by 12:30 p.m.
Barron Collier junior Alex Crisci, 17, said he appreciated that the school's administration allowed students to speak their minds.
"It was really nice and touching to see that so many people cared enough to participate in something like that," he said.
Students at Immokalee High School walked out of classrooms on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 as part of an anti-gun protest Courtesy Shawntayvia Hickson
Alex and Emma did not know a demonstration was planned until they heard about it at school Wednesday.
Barron Collier senior Grace Stewart, 17, said she and other students didn't attend the rally because of recent threats made to numerous Collier schools.
"I didn't want to take the risk of being in an open area," Grace said. "It makes you an easier target."
At Naples High School, students who witnessed the walkout said the protest initially consisted of 10 students, but more joined in when they saw the commotion.
The event started around noon in the courtyard, they said.
Students held signs that read "Save Kids Not Guns." Other students started a counterprotest, chanting conservative slogans such as "Build a Wall."
Students described the scene as a "mob of students" and "mass chaos."
Naples High senior Alena Hampel, 17, said it was "cool" to hear so many of her peers chanting anti-gun messages.
"I was pleasantly surprised to see that many students taking part," she said.
Scenes from a rally Wednesday, February 21, 2018, at the Florida capital complex. Florida school shooting survivors from Parkland are in Tallassee to talk to state legislators. Ashley Collins/Naples Daily News
Alena said students attempted to move the rally off campus but were thwarted when the principal and law enforcement held the gates shut.
On the other side of the county at Immokalee High, students took part in both a morning and afternoon protest.
Students said the morning event, which took place at the front gate and later moved to the football field, included about 100 students, while the lunchtime gathering drew about 50 to the courtyard.
Students held posters and chanted slogans that carried anti-gun messages such as: "We are students. We are victims. We are change."
At least two students spoke at the afternoon event, including Immokalee sophomore Alissa Mays, 16.
She shared her speech with the Naples Daily News:
"How many more parents have to get a phone call saying that their child was killed in a school shooting? Those parents of the 17 victims and every other parent that lost their child at a school shooting never got to say goodbye."
Freshman Shawntayvia Hickson, 14, said she's heard about a number of serious threats to her school since the Parkland shooting and is disappointed with the lack of communication from administrators. She said the school has kept students in the dark about which threats are real and which are rumors.
Shawntayvia and many other Collier students said they had friends who stayed home Monday out of fear.
"It's just really devastating that we have to be scared to go to our own school," she said.
Data obtained from the school district revealed a significant dip in attendance Monday; however Collier County Public School spokesman Greg Turchetta said the decrease may be due in part to parents who pre-scheduled travel for Presidents Day.
The day was originally planned as a school holiday, but the school district held classes Monday to make up for school days lost after Hurricane Irma.
"We had small student demonstrations at Immokalee, Barron Collier, and Naples High school," Turchetta said in an email about Wednesday's protests. "They were on campus, brief, and had minimal impact on the academic day."