STEM students upset they weren’t invited to speak at vigil, frustrated at political tone

DENVER — A vigil intended to heal a community turned political Wednesday night, leading to a walkout at Highlands Ranch High School.

Emotions ran high at the service for STEM School Highlands Ranch students. Students walked out as a parent took to the microphone to complain about students not being given a chance to speak.

Amid the frustration, many turned their focus on event organizers and the talk of gun control.

“It turned into a political situation, and the kids don’t want to be used as a prop,” one attendee said.

There were calls to let STEM students speak after Democratic politicians, Congressman Jason Crow and Sen. Michael Bennet, addressed the crowd.

Gun control advocates at the microphone only seemed to make the situation worse.

“It turned into kind of a political circus — there about halfway through,” another person said.

Bennet and Crow primarily focused on community healing.

During the event, STEM students were asked to go into the hallway to organize who would speak for them. Then, students say a STEM school staffer encouraged them not to speak— afraid their words would be twisted and used to support gun control.

“Last night should have been about Kendrick Castillo and the STEM School students,” said a spokesperson for Bennet. “They are our focus and the event should have been set up to ensure their voices were fully heard.”

The event organizer was the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Its press secretary, Max Samis, sent the following statement:

“Brady has always been and always will be supportive of individuals and communities who have experienced the horrors of gun violence. Our deepest condolences are with the STEM School students, faculty, and families. All efforts should be focused on providing them support in this time of crisis. The event at Highlands Ranch High School was planned to be responsive to the broader community, who have been deeply impacted by this event, and show solidarity with the STEM School students, teachers, and parents. We are here to lift up the voices of victims and survivors. Members of the community, faith leaders, students, teachers, youth activists, and elected officials - including Sen. Michael Bennett and Rep. Jason Crow - were invited to join this vigil honoring the STEM School community. We are deeply sorry any part of this vigil did not provide the support, caring and sense of community we sought to foster and facilitate and which we know is so crucial to communities who suffer the trauma of gun violence.” 

"It is my job to show up and support my community during times of tragedy,” said Crow in a written statement. “I grieve for what Highlands Ranch and our families have been through. The last few days I have been asked the same question over and over again: what are you doing to stop this from happening? It is my job to take tough questions and offer real solutions. Bottomline, everyone needs to listen to those most impacted by this violence to learn how we can move forward, and that begins with listening to the students of STEM School.”

While the vigil was held at Highlands Ranch High School, Douglas County Public Schools did not sponsor the event.

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