Nineteen years to the day after 13 people were slaughtered at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, students across the country plan to walk out of their classrooms Friday at 10 a.m. local time to protest what they see as continuing inaction to combat gun violence.
The National School Walkout follows directly in the tradition of other grassroots student actions against gun violence in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people.
“Keeping up the momentum is important,” Connecticut sophomore Lane Murdock, the student who conceived Friday’s walkout, told USA Today. “We saw that low after March for Our Lives, but students aren’t quitting on this. Our generation is demanding change and won’t be ignored or swept under the rug.”
“I think a lot of people see this as the finale,” she said, “but no — it’s still just the beginning of this movement.”
According to TIME, Murdock’s protest began as an online petition on Change.org started in the immediate aftermath of Parkland massacre, which supplanted Columbine as the deadliest school shooting in history.
The website for the National Student Walkout describes it as “a nationwide protest of our leaders’ failure to pass laws that protect us from gun violence. Mass shootings happen far too frequently in America, and we as a nation have become numb to seeing the news. … Together, we will send a message that we won’t tolerate any more inaction on this issue. And if cowardly politicians fail to act, young people will show them the consequences of letting so many Americans die by voting them out in November.”
A compilation of walkouts on Friday shows there are more than 2,600 events planned around the country with tens of thousands of students expected to be involved, according to the event’s website.
Broadly, the goals are to work to combat gun violence and encourage political engagement and accountability from politicians.
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“Before I was learning how to read or write, I was learning how to sit in a dark classroom to make sure a shooter won’t see us,” Virginia junior Laura Kirk, who plans to participate in the walkout, told the Washington Post. “It’s kind of ingrained in who we are as a generation.”
The walkout comes little more than a month after a previous national protest — the similarly titled but separate Enough! National School Walkout — that was organized by some of the survivors of the Parkland shooting.
Unlike that walkout, where students left their classes for 17 minutes to mark the 17 Parkland victims, participants in Friday’s event will leave school for the day and not return.
This carries the risk of possible disciplinary action from administrators, though legal experts say any punishment cannot be more more harsh because it involves a political protest, according to TIME.
“We can end the daily bloodshed in our country, and we can make history while doing it,” the National School Walkout organizers wrote on their website, as part of a larger introduction to their goals.
“We can rise up together and declare, with one ringing voice, that the age of national indifference towards the ever-growing death toll is over. We can change America forever, all before we reach 20 years of age.”
Five years after the Columbine shooting — carried out by seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold — PEOPLE spoke with some of the survivors and those affected by the violence. They talked about their nightmares, pain and hope.
Here are some of the excerpts from that fifth-anniversary piece in the magazine:
Almost from the first days after the tragedy, Tom Mauser, whose 15-year-old son Daniel was killed in the library at Columbine, emerged as a passionate advocate of stricter gun safety measures. He visited the White House and lobbied the state legislature. His efforts paid off in November 2000, when Colorado voted to become, along with Oregon, one of the first states in the country to close the so-called gun-show loophole, which had allowed the purchase of firearms at such events without background checks.
“You don’t get over it,” Mauser told PEOPLE. “But you have to be honest with yourself that your child would not want you to be in deep grief and anger for the rest of your life.”
“I knew who shot me,” said Kacey Ruegsegger of the moment when Harris confronted her in the school library, as she huddled fearfully under a table. “I remember looking straight down the barrel.” In the next instant his shotgun blew a hole in her right shoulder and her hand. “The gunman told me, ‘Quit your bitching,’ ” Ruegsegger recalled to PEOPLE in 2004. “I thought he was going to shoot me again, so I pretended to be dead.” She added: “I was the only one out of the first six shot in the library who survived.”
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