A vigil commemorating the victims of the STEM school shooting in Colorado ended in protest Wednesday evening after students said they refused to be used as pawns to promote gun control.
Hundreds attended the vigil — students, teachers, activists and elected officials — to honor Kendrick Castillo, the 18-year-old who was fatally shot Tuesday at the STEM School Highlands Ranch in suburban Denver. But Castillo’s classmates, who were left off of the program, were moved to protest after several invitees, including Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) and Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), spoke. Many of the teenagers at the vigil — at the nearby Highlands Ranch High School — perceived the speeches as politicizing their trauma when they wanted their own voices heard.
Students stood and stormed out. Some clapped and united in chants, deriding what they saw as a “political stunt.” The school parking lot quickly filled with teenagers, cursing at the press and holding backlit cellphones in the air.
“What happened at STEM is awful, but it’s not a statistic. We can’t be used for a reason for gun control. We are people, not a statement,” one student wearing a yellow Spartans shirt said in video aired by 9News.
Another teenager voiced similar frustrations, saying: “I thought this was about us, not about politics.”
Earlier Wednesday, in the wake of the STEM shooting, both Colorado politicians posted messages on Twitter endorsing changes to gun laws.
“We must pass common-sense gun violence laws,” Crow wrote.
“Our children deserve to live in a world where they don’t fear going to school,” Bennet tweeted, echoing the sentiment. “Something has to change.”
Castillo was killed three days before graduation. A bullet hit the high school senior as he tried to tackle the shooter. Eight other students were injured when two people opened fire. Police have identified the alleged shooters as Devon Erickson and Alec McKinney. They were expected to appear in court Friday to formally face charges in connection with the shooting. McKinney, who is under 18, is also set to learn whether he will be charged as an adult.
The gathering at Highlands Ranch High, one of several held Wednesday, was organized by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
“We are here to lift up the voices of victims and survivors,” a statement released by the Brady Center said Wednesday. “We are deeply sorry any part of this vigil did not provide the support, caring and sense of community we sought to foster and facilitate.”
The same students regathered in the school gymnasium later Wednesday evening and completed Castillo’s commemoration.
One student, in a moment captured by 9News, addressed the reconvened crowd and said: “We wanted Kendrick to be mourned. We wanted all of you to join us in that mourning. But that was not allowed here.”
“We’re back now to tell you we love Kendrick and we love all of the survivors,” he said.