‘This feels a little too familiar’: ARHS alumni organize demonstration following recent mass shootings

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People gathered in the Northborough Town Common for a demonstration against gun violence on Sunday. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

NORTHBOROUGH – Northborough community members dressed in orange and gathered in the Town Common on Sunday to demonstrate against gun violence following recent shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, N.Y.

As organizer Sarah Saeed described it, orange is the color that hunters wear in the woods for protection.

“It is a color of visibility and has thus become the color of the anti-gun violence movement,” Saeed told the Community Advocate.

ARHS graduates organize event

Saeed and fellow organizer Kathryn Zaia graduated from Algonquin Regional High School in 2021.

In the past, they have used demonstrations like this as a way to respond to other issues that they care about. Zaia said that they wanted to create a space for people to “gather and mourn lives lost and create a call for action for the community.”

“We’re tired of things like this happening,” Saeed said. “We’re tired of having to hold demonstrations like this one, but we feel it is necessary.”

Saeed added that she and Zaia wanted to give current Algonquin students “a platform to share their voices.”

“That’s why we’re here today,” she said.

State rep. discusses gun violence

Chief William Lyver, State Rep. Meghan Kilcoyne and State Rep. Danielle Gregoire were among those attending Sunday’s demonstration against gun violence in Northborough. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

Among the attendees on Sunday was State Rep. Meghan Kilcoyne whose district includes part of Northborough. Kilcoyne said organizers reached out to ask her to attend and listen to their concerns.

“Unfortunately, this is yet another mass shooting that has occurred at a school,” she said. “For me, any way that I can support in making sure students are heard, that we’re listening and that we’re actively trying to address the root cause at hand is really important to me.”

Kilcoyne was a child in the aftermath of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. She said she remembered the trauma of the shooting and recalled teachers trying to make sure that students were O.K. During the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, Kilcoyne was then working as a staffer in former Rep. Harold Naughton’s office where she worked on updating gun policies.

She noted that the children who died during the Sandy Hook shooting would be about the same age as some of the students at this weekend’s event in Northborough.

“It’s devastating to me that we’re here yet again,” Kilcoyne said.

‘There are too many to count’

The recent shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, left 19 students and two teachers dead.

That came just a week after a gunman killed 10 people in a supermarket in Buffalo.

Attendees of the demonstration in Northborough remembered each of the victims.

“This feels a little too familiar,” Saeed said. “Before Uvalde it was Oxford, and before that  – Santa Clarita, and before that – Parkland, and before that – Marshall County, and North Park, and Sandy Hook, and Chardon, and Cleveland, and Blacksburg, and Santana.”

“I could go on,” she continued. “There are too many to count; too many students that we failed to protect; too many families destroyed.”

Current, former ARHS students speak

Events in Northborough this weekend featured a performance of John Denver’s “Sail Away Home” by Carly Mahowald as well as speeches by former and current Algonquin students.

Junior Sara Medina discussed mental illness. Sophomore Ava Arcona talked about how people are “desensitized to the horrors of gun violence in America.”

“We as a nation are so accustomed to these tragedies that the news of yet another school shooting was simply a drop in the bucket, but as students, the danger feels very real and very close,” Arcona said.

She recalled an incident in November where a staff member at ARHS accidentally set off an emergency lockdown announcement during passing time. Over the PA system, a voice told students and staff that there was an active shooter on campus, advising individuals to take immediate shelter.

“Immediately, we were thrown into disarray,” Arcona said. “Students rushed down the halls, cramming themselves into classrooms while still having no clue as to what was going on.”

She said she remembered the “look of panic” on a teacher’s face as he “frantically” waved students into his classroom.

Principal Sean Bevan discussed that incident in an email to the Community Advocate on Wednesday, explaining that a staff member “inadvertently engaged a pre-recorded message” announcing that the school was going into lockdown.

“She immediately announced that this was an error and that we were not in lockdown, and I announced something similar right afterwards,” Bevan wrote.

He shared an email that had been sent to students, staff and families explaining what happened. The email said that the school was using the error as an opportunity to strengthen its safety protocols, including how and when they employed the lockdown protocol.

Bevan said they immediately disabled the feature and haven’t had issues since.

Arcona said it was “business as usual” at ARHS after the announcement.

“After the adrenaline had subsided, all I felt was tired,” she said.

Arcona said she felt the same exhaustion when she heard the news of the Uvalde shooting, just as she felt the exhaustion during lockdown drills.

She further criticized lawmakers who “do nothing to prevent gun violence from happening” and act surprised when another shooting occurs.

“We no longer feel safe at the place we spend the majority of our time,” Arcona said. “This cannot be our new normal.”

“Students, children, adults dying because we are too scared to regulate our precious firearms is not normal,” she continued. “Police standing outside the scene while they wait to get rescued is not normal. I hope that all of you will hear this and decide that enough is enough.”

‘Let’s work together to create a kinder world’

Speeches continued on Sunday, with speakers calling for gun violence protection laws, universal background checks and a ban on automatic rifles.

They also called on individuals to make their voices heard.

Medina called gun control “extremely vital,” noting that shooters at Robb and Sandy Hook elementary schools shouldn’t have had access to the weapons they used.

“But the focus in the wake of mass shootings is exclusively on gun control,” she said. “And while gun control is undoubtedly necessary, the political divide on gun rights shifts attention away from other factors that contribute to violence.”

Medina said community members should learn more about mental illness and be willing to talk openly about issues.

“Let’s work together to create a kinder world where mental health is a top priority, and let’s take on the future with a movement that finally breaks the numbing cycle of school shootings,” Medina said. “The future of America is in our hands. So, let’s be the change.”

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