Thousands flood Lake Eola to join March for Our Lives gun violence protest: ‘We need action’


Amanda Marty took cover in a classroom full of strangers during the Feb. 14 shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

As they sat in the dark that afternoon, students could hear radio chatter and soon learned the suspect.

“Nikolas Cruz, find anything you can in his file,” a voice said over the radio.

Marty, 15, had been outside for a fire drill when the shooting began. Returning to find her classroom door locked, she hid in a nearby room as the chaos unfolded.

Marty shared her story Saturday with thousands of people at Lake Eola, as local activists, politicians and survivors of the 2016 Pulse shooting joined a nationwide chorus demonstrating in March For Our Lives rallies.

Marty issued a challenge to critics who say Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students don’t have the maturity to understand complex topics like gun control.

“Nobody should place limits on what we say or believe based on any of those things,” she said. “When you have seen what I have seen, see if you have the nerve to tell me to my face that I am too young to understand.”

The rally came just more than five weeks after the Parkland shooting. Cruz is accused of killing 17 people.

That killing spree has touched off a sustained effort – led primarily by high school students – to convince politicians that gun laws need to change.

“I’m done with always getting on my phone and seeing an alert about a mass shooting,” said Marwa Ab, 17, of Kissimmee. “I don’t want to be known as the mass-shooting generation.”

The rallies across the country drew massive crowds and were marked by speeches and call-and-response chants.

Police in Orlando estimated the attendance at between 7,000 and 10,000.

Many could be heard during the two-mile walk from Lake Eola to Seneff Arts Plaza and back chanting slogans like, “No more silence, end gun violence,” and, “No more violence, no more hate, we just want to graduate.”

The march reminded 57-year-old Winter Park resident Richard Tharp of protests that erupted during the Vietnam War.

“This will completely make a difference,” he said at Seneff Arts Plaza. “It’s only the beginning and they will only continue to be heard. It’s the voice of a new generation.”

From the stage at Lake Eola, Neema Bahrami, a Pulse survivor-turned-activist, said he and fellow survivors stand behind the Parkland students.

“There is not a day that goes by I don’t think about how our safe place, the place where we called home, was ripped out from underneath us,” he said.

The rally drew visitors from throughout Central Florida in support of the students.

Many held signs that voiced their frustrations with politicians for not being more proactive on gun violence.

Jacob Hartges, 24, was in town from Lake Mary, carrying a sign that read, “We are the Manifestation of Your Thoughts and Prayers.”

“We need action,” he said. “The lives of our youth in this country are too important.”

The Orlando Police Department said it had imposed added safety measures throughout downtown . A patrol of police officers led the procession, clearing the streets of traffic in front of the crowd.

As they marched, a small group of counter-protesters walked alongside the crowd.

At one point, officers had to intervene when marchers and counter-protesters briefly exchanged words and insults with a group that identified themselves as members of the Proud Boys, a far-right political group.

“This is a very important day. Everyone’s voice and political opinion is important we just happen to disagree with them,” said 26-year-old Jacob Engels, who was among the Proud Boys group.

Orlando’s massacre was cited several times in speeches at the March for Our Lives event in Parkland Saturday, as thousands marched from Pine Hills Park to Stoneman Douglas High.

Students, instructors, alumni and parents called for changes in gun laws, and more safety requirements at schools, including bulletproof windows and doors.

“A murderer should not have been allowed to enter the hallway,” said Samantha Mayor, 17, a student who was shot in the knee. “… He should not have been able to pass a background check. We need stricter background checks.”

Marty, proclaiming that her generation “will be the change,” said on stage in Orlando that the battle to keep guns out of schools is one being fought for future students.

“My 13-year-old brother should not have to worry about whether a shooter will come on campus and shoot him and his friends,” she said.

Staff writer Paul Brinkmann contributed. Contact Marco Santana at msantana[email protected] or 407-420-5256.

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