Julian Middle School eighth grader Senja Peters, 14, releases 13 balloons for the 12 students and 1 teacher killed in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting on Friday, April 20, 2018, during a student walk out and day of remembrance for victims of gun violence at Scoville Park in Oak Park, Ill. The event was also the 19th anniversary for the Columbine shooting. | ALEXA ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Charlotte Blasi, 14, wasn’t born when, on April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered Columbine High School and began shooting.

On Friday, however, she and her fellow Julian Middle School students gathered in Scoville Park to remember the victims of that 19-year-old massacre by floating one balloon for each person, other than the two gunmen, who was killed back then — 12 students and one teacher in total. Klebold and Harris would commit suicide shortly after the shooting.

Blasi was among a group of around five 13- and 14-year-old Julian students, all girls, who organized the Scoville Park rally — part of National School Walkouts planned in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.

Blasi, along with student organizers like Elizabeth Cahill, 14, Maddie Sellars, 13, and Senja Peters, 14, said that they wanted to build on the walkout that students at Julian planned on March 14. 

“We really wanted to get more outreach,” Blasi said while holding a clipboard and helping volunteers setup the sound system. This most recent demonstration, as with the one last month, began at 10 a.m.

For 13 minutes, participants stood silent as Blasi and other organizers, clad in orange shirts, floated orange balloons for those who were murdered at Columbine — those balloons symbols of tragedies that keep repeating themselves and of a new generation of students seemingly buoyed by that history, who have resolved to stop its repetition.

“After the Parkland shooting, we said, ‘You know, something has to be done,'” said Peters. “This is unacceptable and awful, and along with the regular gun violence in the world, we can’t have this at our schools, we can’t have it anywhere.”

At least 200 people, most of them students, began filling up the park after 10:30 a.m. They signed petitions that organizers said would be mailed to local lawmakers like state Sen. Don Harmon (38th), who shook hands and spoke with those in the crowd.

Last month, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed Harmon’s Gun Dealers Licensing Act, which passed the Illinois House of Representatives in February and was approved by the Senate last year. The bill, which Rauner said would have duplicated federal regulations, would have required gun dealers in the state to obtain licensing and made employees undergo training on how to identify illegal gun purchasers, among other requirements.

Lawmakers need to gather a three-fifth vote in the General Assembly in order to override the governor’s veto. At Friday’s rally, Harmon said the national walkout demonstrations “very well might” persuade some lawmakers to implement stricter gun laws at the state and federal level.

“But I think, more importantly, [the student demonstrations] will change the national conversation for generations to come,” Harmon said. “This is not a short-term victory. This is a change in how we look at the world.”

Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 board member Matt Baron, who owns a public relations firm in the village, was working as a freelance journalist a year after Columbine happened. He said that he contributed to a story about the one-year anniversary of the shooting that was published in USA Today.

“What’s interesting is that 18 years after that, it feels like so little progress has been made,” Baron said. “It sounds trite, but these children are our future elected officials. The first 10 years of someone’s life has such an impact on the arc of their life. I just hope it doesn’t take a whole generation [for change to happen]. I hope that there’s enough people in power now for things to start to really change.” 

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