Winston-Salem students and community members gathered in Winston Square Park on Saturday to speak out against gun violence at the Guns Down Lives Up rally following the Sept. 1 shooting at Mount Tabor High School.
Fifteen-year-old William Chavis Raynard Miller Jr. was killed in the shooting.
It was the second school shooting in North Carolina that week, but the first that was fatal. And on Friday — the day before the rally — a 2-year-old was shot and killed in a home in Winston-Salem.
Many of the speakers at the rally called for the community to come together to prevent more violence from happening, asking for people to do more than just show up to events without making any real efforts to change anything.
"We need to make sure that no student is ever afraid that they will never see their parents again, or that a parent is ever getting the call that their child is no longer here with them," Kylie Collins, a junior at Reagan High School in Winston-Salem, said. "We cannot guarantee something like this will never happen again, but we can do everything in our power to prevent it."
Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough was one of the speakers at the rally on Saturday.
"I have been crying for four days," Kimbrough said. "I'm grappling with all the things that have happened in my community. The governor said on Thursday that it's time to double down on our resources. We should've already been doubling down on our resources. Anything that is a social issue has the ability to become a criminal issue."
Several students who spoke said they felt they had been treated poorly by Forsyth County sheriff’s deputies in the wake of the shooting.
Mary Holton, a junior at Mount Tabor High School, said both students and teachers were treated disrespectfully immediately after the shooting, during what was one of the most traumatic days of her life.
“They were just so, so cruel,” Holton said. “I remember I was in a classroom when the shooting happened, and then they took me in the hallway into the media center, and then from the media center they took us to another classroom to get our names and everything. And the woman taking my name and the women in there taking other people's names, they were all just so cruel. They were just so mean, they were yelling at us and getting mad at us.”
Holton said she remembered seeing one student staring at the floor in shock who was shoved by a sheriff’s deputy trying to get his attention. She said she heard from other students and teachers that they had been treated violently by sheriff’s deputies.
Christina Howell, public affairs officer for the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office, said the sheriff’s deputies on scene were focused on finding and neutralizing a threat and keeping students safe.
“We absolutely are not going to waste time on being kind and polite,” she said. “We're there to ensure their safety above all else.”
One common theme among speakers at the rally was mental health. In particular, many students were worried about the impacts on other students who may not feel they have a community at school.
“Everyone deserves a safe space, somewhere they feel they belong,” Collins said. “For many students, that is school."
At the end of the rally, Olivia Moore, a student at Reagan High School and the founder of the organization behind the rally, Winston for Peace, ended by asking everyone there to think about one question:
“What relationships can you form today that will prevent a tragedy tomorrow?”
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