CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL) — Hundreds of students walked out of classes at Washington High School today, demanding legislative change and an end to gun violence after two 18-year-olds were shot and killed over the weekend.
18-year-old Matrell Johnson had graduated from Metro High School in January, according to a GoFundMe. 18-year-old Royal Abram was expected to graduate with his peers from Washington on Saturday. An opportunity he’ll now never get. Today, his former classmates walked for him instead.
Two of the student organizers, Quintin Gay and Darshuan Smith said the walkout was to honor the legacy of the two victim’s and empower students to make a change.
“He was so kind-hearted, such a beautiful soul. He always put his friends before himself,” said Lily Burns of Royal, who she knew from school. Burns said she participated in the walkout today to use her voice for those who were killed by gun violence over the weekend.
“We’re loosing so many people to gun violence, and we need that to stop. I’ve had countless classmates pass away that should be graduating with me next Saturday and they don’t get that chance. And moms keep outliving their sons and daughters and that’s just not fair,” said Burns.
A fate that became too real for students at Washington High School after two 18-year-olds died on Saturday after attending a party. One of them, Royal, was a fellow classmate.
HAPPENING NOW: Students at Washington High School are walking out of classes today. This comes after two 18-year-olds were shot and killed over the weekend. Students who knew the two killed are set to speak. More tonight at 5 & 6 pm. pic.twitter.com/4A9WGpeft5
— KWWL (@KWWL) May 20, 2019
“These were some great people that we lost, this was not some act of gang violence or something… It was just a very unfortunate situation where just, wrong place wrong time,” said Smith who serves as his class president.
Signs reading ‘Remember Royal’ and voices yelling “we need action” took over the front lawn of Washington High School around 10:15 a.m. on Monday.
Gay said he wants Abram and Johnson’s name to be the last on the list of deaths by gun violence.
“Royal was supposed to graduate from high school this weekend and knowing that he won’t have that opportunity to walk across the stage, he won’t have the opportunity to go to Kirkwood to continue his education like he planned. That’s sad… that’s really sad,” said Gay.
“We’re tired of this, I’d like to not see another one of my friends killed,” said Smith.
Burns said Abrams was troubled by the gun violence and wanted to be a positive change in his community, a legacy she now feels inspired to continue.
“He wanted to be better and he wanted to do better because he’s lost friends too, to the senseless gun violence. Looking back at that conversation this past weekend made me want to do something about it, have a voice about it and make my voice his voice,” said Burns.
Facility, staff, and police were also present during today’s walkout. The Cedar Rapids Community School District’s issued a statement saying:
“The loss of lives over the weekend due to gun violence directly impacts our students, our faculty, and our entire school district. We have aimed to provide students and staff safe opportunity to grieve and be supported in that grief, as well as to peaceably assemble.
As a school district, we honor our students’ first amendment rights to peaceably assemble and also express their grief as they did this morning, at Washington High School, during the student-led and student-organized walkout. The student leaders of this particular demonstration took an important and valuable step to communicate their plan with staff and administrators to ensure the instructional day went as smoothly as possible and we were able to maintain a safe environment for all. This shows a level of maturity of which we should all be proud.
As staff, it was our responsibility to ensure the school day went smoothly and without incident for both the students who chose to participate in the walkout and those who chose not to. Providing instruction to those students who remained in class and ensuring a safe environment for all students and staff was our responsibility. We are proud of the way students and staff composed themselves during the walkout and our hearts remain heavy for the families impacted by this weekend’s tragic events.”
Washington High School has extra counselors on campus for students and staff in need, through a partnership with Grant Wood AEA and the Critical Incident Stress Management.
A GoFundMe has been started for both families who lost 18-year-olds.