This story was originally published on WKUTalisman.com in March 2018 as part of a package on local March for Our Lives events. View the full package — complete with photos, illustrations and additional reporting — here.
They marched, chanted and held homemade signs. They advocated for tighter gun laws and regulations. They were inspired by the student survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida, that claimed 17 lives a little more than a month earlier.
This weekend, a group of around 300 people in Marshall County, Kentucky joined people in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. participating in March for Our Lives demonstrations. Some of them knew all too well the effects of a school shooting.
After all, it had been only two months and one day since their community had been rattled by such an event.
On the morning of Jan. 23, before classes even began, a shooter started firing rounds in the commons area of Marshall County High School — the very spot where generations of Marshall County students had gathered to attend school dances and to hang out with friends in between classes. The gunfire killed two students, and 18 were injured in the midst of the chaos.
In the days and weeks after the shooting, Heather Adams said she watched her son, MCHS freshman Seth Adams, struggle to process the event that had taken place.
“We were struggling bad with anxiety and really awful panic attacks and stuff,” Heather Adams said. “And then that shooting happened at [Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School], and that was enough. You know, we had to do something.”
She, her son and several other students and community members started planning a Marshall County March for Our Lives event, to be held in conjunction with similar marches across the country. Heather Adams said the students did “99 percent” of the organizing and that it proved to be beneficial in helping them take action and express their grief.
“It’s been a very cathartic experience for [Seth] to be able to do this and feel the support of his community,” Heather Adams said.
Minutes before the event was scheduled to begin, rain drizzled down from the sky. A crowd of community members clutched umbrellas and handmade signs, unfazed. They were small children in strollers, older individuals with snow-white hair, and people in between. They gathered around a small, covered stage where a podium was set up.
Students and well-known community members sat in a semi-circle on this stage, and one-by-one, they left their seats, stood behind a microphone and addressed the crowd. Overhead, the long ladder of a fire truck suspended a giant American flag in the air.
Many of the students who spoke attended Marshall County High School and had been there on the morning of Jan. 23. They spoke with anger, outrage, fear, emotion and sadness in their voices, but they made one thing clear: Inspired by the students from Parkland, they wanted to make a change.
“School shootings were basically taboo to talk about before the students of Parkland decided to stand up,” Hailey Case said. “We look to our government, to the adults of this nation, to keep us safe. We trust them to save our lives because that’s what they promised to do. We trust them to always put us above everything else because that’s what they said they’d do. But they didn’t.”
Case, a freshman at MCHS, had been particularly nervous to address the crowd. But as soon as she finished, her friend Lela Free wrapped her in a hug. Case found her seat on the stage. A small smile stretched across her face; she almost looked as if she could cry from nerves and sheer adrenaline.
Soon, it was MCHS junior Keaton Conner’s turn to speak. Speaking to such a large crowd wasn’t particularly new for her; she’d already spoken at two similar events in Frankfort this month. But she recalled a time before she’d been motivated to activism.
“The weeks in between the Marshall County High School shooting and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, I didn’t speak out,” Conner said. “I can’t help but ask myself, if I would have been as selfless and as brave as they were, would this have even happened to them? No time is too soon and no demonstration is too much to save a student’s life.”
Conner’s parents, Troy and Shannon, and her 11-year-old brother stood, watching her from the crowd. As her daughter spoke, Shannon applauded, an unmistakable look of pride on her face.
Cloi Kennedy, a freshman at MCHS, was one of the last students to speak. As she walked toward the podium, the rest of the student speakers gathered around her, holding their signs in the air, looking straight ahead — solemn, straight-faced and serious.
“What time is it?” Kennedy asked.
“It’s time for change,” her peers shouted.
“What time is it?” Kennedy repeated her question.
“It’s time for change,” the whole crowd joined in this time, their voices becoming one in the middle of a public park on a mild, rainy Saturday afternoon.
Holding their signs, the students looked at the crowd defiantly.
They’d made their message clear: For them, it was time for change.