PARKLAND, Fla. — They solemnly spilled onto the high school football field, holding signs protesting gun violence and wearing shirts that read “March for our lives.” They waved at a crowd of onlookers who had gathered to show support.
Exactly one month after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School here in Parkland, survivors of the massacre joined tens of thousands of students across the U.S. in a national walkout Wednesday morning.
The 10 a.m. protest lasted 17 minutes, one minute for each of the victims killed at the high school. The purpose, according to organizers, was to highlight “Congress’ inaction against the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.”
Organized by the Women’s March, an estimated 185,000 people in 50 states joined the walkout. Approximately 3,100 schools said they were going to participate, an organizer told NBC News ahead of the walkout.
In Washington, D.C., a crowd in the thousands gathered, holding signs toward the White House with slogans such as “Books Not Bullets” and “Fire Politicians, Not Guns” on them.
At the stroke of 10 a.m., the crowd sat down en masse, their backs to the White House, and started a 17-minute-long moment of silence. Afterwards, some marched to Capitol Hill, with plans to meet with legislators.
In Parkland, the crowd cheered as students exited the high school and gathered in the center of the football field. Some onlookers yelled “We love you!” to the students.
The emotional walkout was too intense for Stoneman Douglas junior Susana Matta Valdivieso, who decided to leave early.
“Today marks one month and seeing the crowd all over again with the media (outside) is harsh,” she told MSNBC’s Rehema Ellis.
After the walkout, the students, joined by some middle schoolers, headed to a nearby park, for a 17-minute prayer service for the community.
Ahead of Wednesday’s events, there were mixed emotions among pupils.
Alexandra Anglade, a 16-year-old junior who planned to participate, said she felt moved knowing that people across the country are showing their support.
“It means a lot to me to know people are willing to help out. It’s amazing to see schools in California and New York stand with us and do the same thing,” Anglade said.
Other students said they felt anxious.
“I’m a little bit nervous because a lot of us are going to be out in the open,” 18-year-old senior Justin Hing said. “A crazy guy could do a drive-by. But at the same time, I’m glad they’re doing it, because it’s a good way to raise awareness.”
The school has become a symbol of strength in Parkland. Cars driving by are adorned with black ribbon magnets or red hearts and the words “#MSDStrong.”
And a growing memorial lines nearly the entire perimeter of the Stoneman Douglas campus, with pinwheels whirling in front of mountains of flowers and pictures of the 17 people killed last month. Two red heart-shaped balloons were affixed to each memorial Wednesday morning ahead of the walkout.
Scott Horowitz, 57, of Boca Raton, came to visit with his daughter, Jessica, on Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s almost like a cemetery here,” he said.
Sharri Cagle, executive director of Keys to Kindness, a non-profit that encourages changing lives through kind acts, drove down from Tampa on Monday to place birdhouses on the memorial.
“It was important,” Cagle said of her decision to make the 230-mile trip, wiping a tear from behind her glasses as she spoke. “I felt like I want to do something to help. It was a way to give back.”
Grace Pinzon, who has lived in Parkland for the last 25 years, brought her son and his friend, who were home from college for spring break, to the memorial.
“My oldest said if this had happened 10 years ago, he would have had a lot of friends who would have been affected by this,” the 57-year-old Pinzon said.
Her 22-year-old son Alex Pinzon, a senior at American University in Washington, D.C., said he hopes to attend the “March for Our Lives” on March 24 in the capital. It is being organized by the Stoneman Douglas students.
Alex Pinzon said he’s inspired by how vocal the Parkland survivors have been and said if they’re able to promote change in Washington, he will be even more proud.
“If Parkland is the city remembered for being the one to bring about change on gun laws, I’ll be proud as I can be to be from here,” he said.
Kalhan Rosenblatt reported from Parkland. Elizabeth Chuck, Ethan Sacks and Jonathan Sperling reported from New York.
The hashtags #NationalSchoolWalkout and #Enough for Wednesday’s protest and gun reform have thousands of tags on Instagram, with users uploading by the minute.