A vigil for the victims of the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting resulted in protest on Wednesday after students accused Colorado elected officials of politicizing their grief to push for gun-control.
The vigil, organized by students from Highlands Ranch and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, was held one day after two gunmen opened at fire at STEM resulting in the death of one student and eight others wounded. Initially, the 2,000 in attendance were somber and reserved in honor of Kendrick Castillo, the STEM student who lost his life when subduing one of the gunmen.
The situation, however, quickly changed when two members of Colorado's congressional delegation, Democrats Michael Bennet and Jason Crow, took the opportunity to press for gun-control.
Bennet, the state's senior senator who recently launched a bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, invoked Castillo's bravery to argue Congress's inaction had forced students to take school safety into their own hands.
"Their job is not to fix America's broken gun laws," Bennet told the students, according to a reporter from The Colorado Sun. "Their job is not to give up their own life…to save their classmates' lives."
Freshman representative Jason Crow echoed a similar sentiment, telling those gathered "they already" had his "thoughts and prayers" but deserved and "should demand more." Crow, who represents STEM and Highlands Ranch in Congress, was one of the first elected officials to call for "common-sense gun violence laws" in the wake of the shooting.
The remarks by Bennet, Crow, and other speakers struck students in attendance, especially survivors of the shooting, as inappropriate. A large portion of students chose to walkout in protest, rather than remain at the vigil.
"Don't use Kendrick’s name for political reasons!" one of the students shouted when exiting, as reported by the Highlands Ranch Herald. Chants of "Mental health!" and "It's not about guns," were also heard.
After standing in the parking lot for sometime, the students were enticed to return with the promise that they would be allowed to speak by the vigil's organizers.
"What has happened at STEM is awful, but its not a statistic," one of the students said on stage afterwards, according to video from a local NBC affiliate. "We can't be used as a reason for gun-control. We are people, not a statement."
Another student used the time granted to praise the organic nature of the walkout.
"We wanted Kendrick to be mourned, we wanted all of you to join us in that morning," the student said. "But that was not allowed here. We all walked out, we were not kicked out, despite what you have heard. We're back now to tell you that we love Kendrick, we love all of the survivors."
On Thursday, Crow announced he would introduce legislation to prohibit gun sales to individuals residing outside of the state of purchase.