COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Huddled on the football field bleachers under light rain, hundreds of Brighton High School students sat in silence Wednesday morning as the names of victims of the recent Parkland, Florida, school shooting were read aloud.
Students in attendance said they reflected on the deaths of 17 students and teachers and their own roles in furthering the national conversation on school safety.
At the conclusion of the observance at Brighton High, student organizer Isaac Reese called on each of his classmates to send an email to their elected representatives by the end of the day.
"We cannot let students our age die in vain," Reese said. "If we don't take action, who will?"
Brighton High student Kadin Lightel said he attended the event to mourn the loss of the students and school employees who died in the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
"I'm also here because there needs to be a conversation about what's going on because this is happening so often," Lightel said.
"The fact that people can't feel safe at school anymore is just a really scary thing because this is supposed to be a safe space," she said.
The mood was somber, and eerily quiet. The only audible sounds were people sniffling and a drone flying overhead.
Many students wiped tears, particularly after Alaina Petty's name was read. Petty, 14, a freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Kaitlyn Baggett, a junior, sat on the front row and reflected about the loss of life and the nationwide movement by students demanding action.
"It was hard. It was very hard to think about how kids showed up for school one day and some of them were not able to make it home. Being able to be in this movement makes me very, very proud. I think we're going to be one of the generations to make a change," she said.
Brighton students joined their peers across the state and the country by putting down their pencils and pens and walking out of class at 10 a.m. to advocate for safe schools and an end to gun violence.
At Salt Lake City's Northwest Middle School, students walked onto a field outside the school, formed a giant circle and held a paper “peace chain” on which they had written reasons why they believe school should be a safe place.
Looking back on the massacre in Florida, Jinyia Naffziger, 13, said the mass shooting “was like a wake-up call ... because that could’ve been prevented."
Beth Robles, 13, said she took part in the walkout because “it shows how much we care about people’s lives and how much we care about each other and people’s safety.”
Alejandra Stamante, 12, added: "School should be a safe place because there are more children here, so like, all of our lives are important. We’re important."
Hundreds of students from multiple Utah high schools, junior high schools and even elementary schools participated in the event.
At Herriman High School, students filed out of the school shortly after 10 a.m., many of them holding signs protesting gun violence and urging Congress to act. The line wound its way around the gym and to the football field.
Dianna Cervantes, a senior, said she's watched the extensive news coverage of the Florida shooting.
"It seems ridiculous that we’re not doing anything about it yet,” said Cervantes.
“It’s, like, I don’t know how many people need to die for us to make a change and actually make a difference.”
Jose Bustillos, also a senior, said he walked out because "I’m a student, and I don’t want to be shot. … There’s no need for an AK or an AR in anybody’s hands.”
Emily Butler, who also attends Herriman High, said she knows foreign exchange students who worry about their safety while attending class in the United States because of school shootings.
“Something needs to change,” Butler said.
At Salt Lake's Bryant Middle School, students walked out of school and tied orange ribbons to a chain-link fence on the south side of the school campus.
School counselor Theressa Perese said some community members gathered on the other side of fence in solidarity with the students.
Eighth-graders also wrote messages promoting peace and kindness at school on pieces of orange paper, which were linked in a paper chain.
Students want to act on their concerns and be part of the national movement that galvanized after the Parkland massacre.
"More students are concerned. More students are speaking out than before. More children are caring," Perese said.
Brighton High's Reese said youth across Utah and the U.S. need to seize the moment.
"You can't just leave it at a protest. You have to start calling legislators to take action. You have to start voting in people who will take action. It's about being involved in the political process. That's where you take the momentum," he said.
Reese, who faced his classmates as they sat during the 17 minutes of silence, said he thought about the Parkland victims, particularly the youngest among them.
'"What impacts me the most is definitely the age. To hear the age, when you hear that number, you can think of people you know who are that age. You can think of people that you are close to," Reese said. "I think that creates emotional connection because it's always on your mind 'What if I'm next?' No one ever knows what school's next."119 comments on this story
He also thought about the power of students walking out of school simultaneously on Wednesday.
Students from throughout the country communicated via social media to share ideas on how to make their events more powerful, he said.
Social media made the connections possible "but this is different. When Sandy Hook happened, we were so young we really couldn't speak. Now we have the ability to speak and social media gives us a better way to share our voice," Reese said.
Contributing: Ashley Imlay, Preston Cathcart