JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Survivors of a deadly school shooting in St. Louis on Tuesday shared art, music and stories about gun violence at the Missouri Capitol while advocating for lawmakers to act.
“We want to hear the specific actions you are taking to prevent tragedies like this one from happening again in our state and our country,” 17-year-old Bryanna Love told reporters. “We — all of us — deserve more than empty promises. We deserve action.”
A 19-year-old gunman killed two people and injured seven others in an Oct. 24 shooting at the Central Visual Arts and Performing Arts High School, which Love attends. It was among the deadliest school shootings in the U.S. last year. Tenth-grader Alexzandria Bell and 61-year-old physical education teacher Jean Kuczka died before police killed the gunman, former student Orlando Harris, in an exchange of gunfire.
In a letter she read aloud, Love said “every morning you get ready for school, you are acutely aware that life is not guaranteed.”
Love and several dozen other students from the school said they want lawmakers to listen to them and do something about gun violence. Several St. Louis Democrats attended the news conference.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson on Monday signed legislation to set aside $20 million for school safety grants in response to the shooting.
Democratic lawmakers filed bills to raise the age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21 and to institute red-flag laws, which are aimed at keeping firearms away from people who may be a danger to themselves or others. But in Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature, any effort to limit access to firearms faces steep opposition.
Ryane Owens, an 18-year-old senior at Central Visual Arts and Performing Arts High School, described the anger and confusion she felt on the day of the shooting.
She said her painting, titled “Waiting for Something to Happen,” depicts mania after a traumatic event. Owens painted her friend head down on a plate of food at a table, a glass of spilled milk and a bowl of pills in milk. A lidless eye reads a newspaper about impending apocalyptic natural disasters and a picture on the wall shows an eye being held forcibly open.
Owens said she catches herself constantly checking for exits and worries about keeping her family safe.
Angel Muhammad, a 17-year-old junior, and other students sang “Pumped Up Kicks” by alternative rock band Foster the People. The song, which is a protest against gun violence, describes a school shooting from the perpetrator’s perspective, warning children to “run faster than my bullets.”
Muhammad asked lawmakers to listen to students and consider passing a red-flag law.
“No one wants to see another tragedy like this happen to anyone,” Muhammad said.
Harris, 19, had a long history of mental health problems. Police said relatives monitored his mail and often checked his room to make sure he did not have a weapon.
In fact, Harris’ mother called police on Oct. 15 after she found an AR-15-style rifle and wanted it removed. But police said in a statement days after the shooting that officers “did not have clear authority” to seize the weapon.
Instead, someone known to the family took the gun away, but Harris was somehow able to get it back.
Love said she knows one of the officers who responded to the mother’s call who couldn’t remove the gun because of “legal loopholes.” She said that officer lives with guilt.
“We can prevent this from happening in the future — it begins here with you,” Love said. “The more we allow gun violence to run rampant in the streets of Missouri, the bloodier your hands become.”
Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed to this report.