Students at Washington High School stage walkout over gun violence following weekend shooting

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Students gather on the grounds of Washington High School in Cedar Rapids on Monday, May 20, during a walkout in memory of two students killed by gun violence. — courtesy of LaNisha Reese Cassell

Students at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids staged a walkout on Monday morning, holding a brief remembrance ceremony on school grounds in honor of two former Washington students who were shot and killed early Saturday morning.

Matrell Johnson and Royal Abram, both 18, were sitting in a car in the parking lot of Iowa Smoke Shop in southwest Cedar Rapids, when someone approached the car and fired several shots at its passengers, according to the Cedar Rapids Police Department. Johnson and Abram were killed, and two 19-year-olds who were also in the car were seriously wounded, and are currently hospitalized.

Johnson and Abram had both attended Washington High before transferring to Metro High School. Johnson graduated in January and Abram was preparing to graduate.

“We’re going to have a walkout this morning to honor those we lost this weekend, and also to send the message that Warriors don’t stand for gun violence, and we want an end to this,” student Quintin Gay, a founder of March for Our Lives Iowa, explained during the school’s Monday morning announcements, invoking the name of Washington’s athletic teams.

Gay said he hoped the walkout would be the “start [of] creating a positive legacy for those we lost in the way they would want it to be.”

The walkout was first announced on Twitter on the WHS Student Section page.

This wasn’t the first walkout related to gun violence at Washington High. In February 2018, students walked out to hold a memorial ceremony for the 17 people killed at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

During the morning announcements, Darshaun Smith, another of the walkout’s organizers, encouraged students to participate in the walkout in order to both memorialize Johnson and Abram, and to begin a discussion in order to “get a position where we as a youthful generation can enact change.” He added, “Nothing will change unless we change it.”

Smith also encouraged students affected by news of the shooting to seek out help, if they need to.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Everybody’s going through something right now to some extent. Just know that there are people willing to help and listen.”

It’s a point Washington High Principal John Cline made in a Sunday email to parents about the shootings.

“In partnership with Grant Wood AEA and the Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team, we will ensure acute counseling support is available to students in the coming days,” Cline said. “Please encourage your child to access this additional emotional support that may be needed at this time.”

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Student walking out to protest gun violence at Washington High School, May 20, 2019 — courtesy of Marilee Reinertson Torres

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker voiced solidarity with the students walking out in a Facebook post Monday morning, expressing regret for missing the ceremony.

“We must mourn the lives lost to tragedy while also straightening our backs and resolving to confront this great challenge with courage and conviction,” Walker wrote. “We must marry our thoughts and prayers with meaningful action.”

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