On Friday, students all across the country will be participating in a national walkout in protest of gun violence and in support of new gun control measures. The walkouts mark the anniversary of a deadly mass shooting at a Littleton, Colorado, high school, but are Columbine students walking out? They already have a longstanding and moving tradition to mark the solemn anniversary.
It was on April 20, 1999 that two Columbine High School students carried out a deadly mass shooting, ultimately killing 13 victims. It was the deadliest high school shooting in American history at the time, and it sent shock waves through the country, dominating national headlines for months. Nineteen years later, it doesn't even crack the top 10 deadliest school shootings in American history, which speaks to the harrowing frequency of hyper-lethal school shootings in recent years.
One prominent example was the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February, which killed 17 people and set off a renewed national focus on mass gun violence. Friday's student walkout was spurred by the Parkland shooting, just like a similar national school walkout last month. But Columbine has its own annual tradition to uphold: Specifically, the school closes every April 20, with students performing a day of service in remembrance of the victims.
As the Associated Press detailed on Thursday, Columbine student Kaylee Tyner, who helped organize the school's participation in last month's walkout, feels it wouldn't be appropriate to partake in a more overtly political demonstration on the anniversary of the massacre.
"Every other day can be a day to push for change,” she told the AP. “But that is a day to respect victims and their families."
In a letter posted on social media regarding the walkout, as Denver NBC affiliate KUSA 9 News notes, Columbine High School Principal Scott Christy similarly urged residents of Jefferson County to continue with the community's usual April 20 tradition, rather than join the national walkouts. He noted that the month of April has typically been used by the community to "respectfully remember our loss" and to "make our communities a better place." The principal wrote:
This year April 20 is garnering more attention that usual in the national and statewide media. We wanted to reach out to students, school leaders and school communities to share what our tradition has been and invite you to join us. We know another walkout has been promoted by various groups, however, in Jeffco the month of April has long been a time to respectfully remember our loss, and also support the efforts to make our communities a better place. Please consider planning service projects, an activity that will somehow build up your school, or perhaps pre-Day Without Hate event on April 20, as opposed to a walkout. The Columbine survivors and Columbine community has supported our efforts as a way to hope and remember, and we encourage you to as well.
In a pair of tweets on Monday, Parkland survivor and gun control activist David Hogg noted that Columbine is not planning on participating in the walkout, while reiterating that the demonstrations will still be taking place.
The Parkland student survivors have been at the forefront of the American push for gun control measures for months now, participating and advocating in support of last month's national walkout, as well as the high-profile and massively attended March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. on March 24.
Needless to say, however, the Columbine community has been marking this anniversary for 18 years now, and in a decidedly different way than the students backing this walkout have chosen to. And from the sounds of things, that's going to continue on Friday, regardless of what students throughout the rest of the nation are planning on doing.