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“It was all political,” a student said, as others talked among themselves and decried the political tone of the event. One speaker inside — Laura Reeves, with the organization Moms Demand Action — had mentioned the National Rifle Association, or NRA, as a reason she said national gun policy wasn’t adequate. “Don’t use Kendrick’s name for political reasons!” another student outside shouted, as chants of “Mental health!” and “(expletive) the media!” took hold. Said another student: “It’s not about the guns!” A chant then began to direct the group back inside, where many more gathered again around the lectern and students — including from STEM — began to speak. One person led the crowd in the gym to hold hands and bow heads in prayer that people could “fight not against each other, but for each other.” That served as a turning point, when a long succession of students took turns on the microphone amid a calmer crowd. One student said she met Castillo as a young child and went to school with him, adding he was “the kindest, gentlest soul you’d ever meet.” Another said he was angry that people “came to talk about gun control.” Some said they were friends with Castillo and attended school with him. One student

Hundreds of local students and parents light up their phones at a May 8 vigil at Highlands Ranch High School for STEM School shooting victims and survivors. called the vigil a “political stunt.” He added, “We walked out. We were not kicked out.” The group held a moment of silence for STEM School and Castillo. A news release announcing the vigil said speakers would include local elected officials, students with activist groups and “students, parents and teachers from STEM,”

ELLIS ARNOLD

among others. Some local students did speak, but STEM students in the crowd felt unheard. Organizers said they tried to reach members of the STEM community through personal connections but couldn’t connect with anyone willing to speak. For Highlands Ranch High teacher Emily Muellenberg, one of the event organizers, focusing on gun violence

prevention efforts can be a way of “community-based solutions seeking,” but she said she understands that “any feeling that a political message was being imparted felt upsetting and not appropriately sensitive.” “For those who spoke up, I am in awe of your strength, and I am proud of you for asking for what you needed in that moment. I am sorry we couldn’t do better, but your resilience and your passion will help fuel your healing,” Muellenberg said in the days after the vigil. “Your honoring of Kendrick Castillo was powerful, and we thank you for that. We sincerely hope that by the end, there was some chance to release and begin to heal for many of you.” Despite the tension toward the media expressed by some in the group that had walked outside, some students spoke to reporters at the end of the event. Logan Griffith, a STEM senior, said he was in the English classroom with 20 to 30 others when the shooting occurred in that room at his school May 7. “I think I speak for STEM when I say we do thank Highlands Ranch High School for hosting this,” Griffith said as the crowd dispersed. “However, this was for Kendrick Castillo. Not for our senator, not for anyone else.”’ He hopes people can honor Castillo and that the events at the vigil serve “as a statement to keep the politics where they belong — keep them in Congress.”

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