EAST MONTPELIER — At a school walkout Wednesday, U-32 Middle & High School students added their voices — and their resolve — to those across the country calling for action to stem gun violence in schools and communities in America.  It came on a day when U-32 and Montpelier High School students staged walkouts that were postponed because of bad weather last week. Students from both schools also held a rally at the State House before testifying with other students at a joint House and Senate Education committee hearing Wednesday afternoon. The national student movement was sparked by the shooting deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14. It prompted the student walkout on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shootings, and a national March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere around the nation this Saturday, March 24. A sympathy rally will also be held at the State House in Montpelier this Saturday, from noon to 2 p.m. Vermont has been grappling with its own close call when police arrested Jack Sawyer, of Poultney, for allegedly planning a mass shooting at Fair Haven High School last month, which further prompted calls for new gun safety laws in the state. Despite the movement to combat gun violence, there was yet another school shooting Monday at Maryland's Great Mills High School. Police said student Austin Wyatt Rollins, 17, shot and wounded his former girlfriend and another student before dying after a confrontation with school resource officer Blaine Gaskill. It was the 17th school shooting this year.  Over 100 U-32 students were in a somber but defiant mood as they gathered in front of the school to hear from four student speakers. Also in attendance were some teachers, Principal Steven Dellinger-Pate and Superintendent Bill Kimball. Two state police cruisers guarded the entrance to the school during the 17-minute ceremony – one minute for each of the lives lost in the  February shooting Florida.  Senior Noah Witke Mele, 18, listed high-profile shootings that included Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, The Pulse nightclub in Florida and the Harvest Music Festival in Los Vegas — each breaking the previous record for the number of deaths in a mass shooting in America.  Sophomore Bruno John, 16, railed against the "sickness" of NRA-funded congressional members who failed to enact legislation to combat gun violence. "Meanwhile, people are getting killed," he said.  Sophomore Ginger Knight, 16, read the names of the 17 people — 14 students and three staff members— killed in the Parkland shooting Feb. 14. "They were victims that were the same ages as most of us," she said. "Why is it always easier to purchase an AR-15 than it is to obtain a driver's license … or to adopt a puppy? This is a wake-up call to our lawmakers from all of us. We cannot sit back and watch students and teachers being killed by armed students."  "My momma birthed me, a girl, into a world of violence," said sophomore Sylvie Williams, 15, of Middlesex. "A post-911 infant, I grew up on a planet where terror rocked my cradle, and the strung together names of mass shootings became my lullaby."  Williams went on to say how her mother, in absentia, taught her not to talk to strangers and to avoid walking alone at night, but be prepared to use her car keys as a weapon if attacked.  "But you never taught me how to behave in a mass shooting because you never believed that could happen to your baby girl," she said. "I don't want to be another statistic that was put on protest signs. I don’t want my name to be screamed out in a poem. I don’t want people saying I was too young or too smart or too sweet to die like that, because all of them are too young and too smart to die. All of them were their momma's little baby and now they're dead."  Speaking afterwards, Williams noted a chilling connection to the latest school shooting at Maryland's Great Mills High School, and another reason for her passionate speech.   "My dad went to school with the principal of that school. Seeing these shootings become more relevant to me gives me this drive to make a difference," she said.  stephen.mills@timesargus.com 

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