LEESBURG — Hundreds of students across Lake County on Wednesday marked the one-month anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 people dead and shocked the nation.

The nationwide effort was cast as a protest of gun violence by students, but at Leesburg High School, the focus was more on honoring those who died in the Broward County incident.

Students poured out of their classes and stood around a pond on the school grounds. At 10 a.m. they fell silent. Every minute until 10:17 a.m., a student read the name of one of the victims aloud, followed by a single peal of the school's main bell.

Art students made individual banners for each of those killed and decorated them with images representing their interests or hobbies. Soccer, swimming, baseball, JROTC and other activities were featured prominently on each banner.

 

"It was a really emotional experience. As soon as they started doing that, kids were crying in closets," said Mel Padilla, an art teacher at Leesburg. "It made it really personal to them."

Those killed were Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, Scott Beigel, 35, Martin Duque, 14, Nicholas Dworet, 17, Aaron Feis, 37, Jamie Guttenberg, 14, Chris Hixon 49, Luke Hoyer, 15, Cara Loughran 14, Gina Montalto, 14, Joaquin Oliver, 17, Alaina Petty, 14, Meadow Pollack, 18, Helena Ramsay, 17, Alex Schachter, 14, Carmen Schentrup, 16, and Peter Wang, 15.

Alex Gladis, 16, did the research on each victim.

"It felt like it was more than people you hear about on the news. It humanized it," Alex said of what she discovered.

Martinis McDuffie, 17, president of the schools National Art Honor Society, helped organize the effort.

"We had some kids who had to take a moment. It got a little heavy sometimes. We had a conversation about gun violence at school," he said.

Michael Randolph, Leesburg High's principal, was proud of his students for honoring the victims and participating in the national conversation on school safety.

"It's a school safety issue that we're fighting for and that we are advocating for. School should be a safe place for every student, and right now our students don't feel safe around campuses all over the country. I want to return that feeling of safety to our students," Randolph said.

Every middle school and high school in Lake County planned to mark the day. Some events were more elaborate than others and included school administrators and students working together, according to Sherri Owens, the district spokeswoman.

Clermont Middle School postponed their event due to an unconfirmed threat. A student reported hearing about a threat, but the Lake County Sheriff's Office found no evidence to make an arrest. The walkout will take place another day, Owens said.

At Lake Minneola High School, faculty, administrators and students encircled the football field in a planned “walk-in” to remember those lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and to rally for change so that it never happens again.

Seventeen empty chairs sat in the middle of the circle in remembrance of the shooting victims whose lives ended on Valentine's Day.

Principal Linda Shepherd-Miller called out one victim’s name every minute and in between, students stood in complete silence, some with their heads bowed, holding hands with one another, crying silently or just reflecting on the moment.

“When my hawks came to me wanting to support and gather in memory of the lives that were lost at Marjory Stoneman, without a doubt we were going to come together as one hawk. One hawk united, one hawk humble and one hawk kind,” Shepherd-Miller said. “It’s part of the healing process.”

Junior Essence Solomon said she was hoping for change.

“My first thought was basically, 'again?'" Solomon said. “This has happened so many times before and there still hasn’t been any change whatsoever. And I feel like after it happening so many times, there should be something done because kids are dying and nothing is happening about it.”

Daily Commercial reporter Roxanne Brown contributed to this story