Tuolumne seventh grader Zander Norans doesn’t believe children should have to go to school every day worrying about whether they will be shot and killed by a gunman.
Norans, 12, spoke Saturday morning to hundreds of people gathered at Courthouse Square in downtown Sonora following a march from Sonora High School to the park, coinciding with hundreds of other marches across the world.
“Now, I’m hearing they want teachers to have guns,” he said. “Well, what if one of those teachers was having a bad day?”
Norans participated in the March for Our Lives event with his mother, Alannah Norans, and brother, Ayden Harrison, 9.
Alannah Norans said she attended because she’s concerned about safety in schools and wanted her children to learn a lesson about freedom of expression.
“I work at a school and both my children attend school and there’s just a concern about the safety of everybody,” Alannah Norans said. “I’m also trying to teach the boys to stand up for their rights.”
More than 300 people marched along North Washington Street beginning at 10 a.m. and gathered in the park.
Some continued along South Washington Street to Stockton Road and turned back while holding signs with messages calling for stricter regulations on guns in the United States and chanting slogans like, “No more silence, end gun violence.”
Hundreds of thousands attended the March for Our Lives rally Saturday morning in Washington, D.C., with reports saying as many as 800 other events were held around the world.
The movement was spearheaded by student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a 19-year-old was accused of using an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle on Feb. 14 to kill 14 students and three faculty members.
More than 300 students in Tuolumne County joined thousands of others across the U.S. on March 14 for a national student walkout to protest gun violence.
Most of the people who marched and gathered at Courthouse Square Saturday appeared to be in their 40s and older, though there were several teenagers and younger children who said they have been inspired by the Parkland activists who have spoken out since the shooting.
“It’s really inspiring and definitely made me more enthusiastic to come to these events and be politically active as a student,” said Columbia College student Jaden McCaffrey, 19, of Twain Harte.
McCaffrey said he believes people on the other side of the debate who talk about guns being taken away and infringement of Second Amendment rights misunderstand the issues and possible solutions.
Alexis Wilson, 18, a senior at Summerville High School in Tuolumne, attended with her mother, Kristin Wilson, a teacher at Columbia Elementary School.
They talked about an incident at Summerville High School in 2015, when Alexis Wilson was a sophomore, in which four students were arrested on suspicion of plotting to shoot other students and teachers.
“I was very scared,” Alexis Wilson said of her feelings at the time. “I can’t understand why anybody would want to hurt other people.”
Kristin Wilson spoke during an open-mic session that closed out the event about how she’s against the idea favored by some politicians, including President Donald Trump, to train and arm teachers.
Sonora High sophomore Nevaeh Pletcher, 15, said the issue has caused some division among her classmates. She spoke during the open-mic session about how she believes kids shouldn’t be scared of speaking out among their peers.
“I feel like there should be a group where people can talk about it openly,” she said after her speech.
Jordain Cragholm-Mook, 17, a senior at Sonora High School, also spoke during the open-mic session about how she’s experienced at least seven lockdowns at several Bay Area schools either due to a school-shooter threat or an armed suspect in a local crime trying to hide at the school.
Cragholm-Mook said she believed lockdowns were normal.
“I believe in my heart that my generation is going to be the ones to wake people up,” she said. “We’re going to make it happen.”
The event on Saturday was organized by a group called #NeverAgainSonora Coalition.
On Friday, the group received a threat via email from a man who used homophobic language and racial slurs for Jewish people, African Americans, and Latinos. He told them to “burn in oven” and that they “will die for what you are doing.”
Organizers alerted the Sonora Police Department, who checked on the man Friday night and determined he was just ranting and didn’t plan to do any physical harm at the event.
Sonora Police Officer Curtis Hankins said there was an increased presence of patrol cars around the park while the event was happening, and reported that there were no issues.
Several people driving by along Washington Street stopped to shout their disapproval at the demonstration from their vehicles, while two others in pickups revved their engines and flipped off the people in the park.
Ellie Harper, one of the organizers who served as emcee, said she didn’t feel the man was going cause harm, but she notified people about it on social media so they could decide whether they wanted to attend.
“I wanted to exercise caution,” she said. “My understanding is a lot of shootings happen after threats that aren’t taken seriously.”
Several people had been asked to to give speeches at the event, including the Rev. Mickey Williamson; Kevin Wychopen, a crisis counselor at Summerville High School; Marc Boyd, an Arnold educator and former California State Assembly candidate; Tom Pratt, a Democratic candidate for California State Senate who lives in Murphys; and Carla Neal, a Democratic candidate for State Assembly.
Several urged people to vote for Democrats over Republicans and slammed the GOP’s stances on gun regulations. Harper said some of them “veered a little overtly political.”
“I apologize to the community for any offense,” she said. “We feel there aren’t two sides to keeping children safe.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.