Students in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties protested Wednesday

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. -- Hundreds of students across the Cape Fear region walked out of their classrooms Wednesday in protest of gun violence and politicians who have not intervened to stop it.

At least a dozen middle and high schools in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties saw students demonstrate as part of the National School Walkout. Held on the one-month anniversary of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the walkouts lasted for 17 minutes -- one minute for each of the students and teachers killed in the shooting.

At 10 a.m., student organizers lined up on the steps at New Hanover High School in downtown Wilmington. They wore orange -- the color worn by hunters to minimize their chances of being shot. Coincidentally, orange is New Hanover's school color.

"This is not a partisan issue," said student Phoebe Davidson, speaking to a crowd of hundreds of her classmates. "We as a generation have an opportunity to change our future. This means registering to vote if you’re 18, pre-registering to vote if you're 16 or 17. In November we have to elect candidates that are not funded by the (National Rifle Association), we have to share our voices and make sure they’re heard by our representatives."

Student speakers at New Hanover called on legislators to enhance background checks for gun buyers, among other firearm regulations. Sam Berliner-Sachs accused the NRA of ignoring student voices in favor of gun manufacturers.

"The NRA is betting on the fact that we wouldn’t notice," he said. "They said we’re just kids and we have no right to fight for these ideals, but I'm voting in this next election. In two or three years, we will all be voting."

Some students had mixed feelings about the walkouts, which they worried classmates would join for the wrong reasons.

"Honestly most of the kids here, they don’t care about the protest, they just want to skip class, which is sad," freshman Kaya Hall said. "There are people who die because of all thes guns at school and stuff. It kind of upsets me that these kids could care less."

"It's great that they're showing that they have their rights, that they're allowed to protest," sophomore Alex Nguyen said. "I just don’t think it'll do much."

But freshman Rhae Burcham came to school with a poster rolled up in her backpack: "You cannot buy the revolution, you cannot make the revolution, we are the revolution. We form gun laws."

"It's strange in a way, because we feel more safe going out on the streets and stuff than going to school," she said. "I just hope we can help change things."

'Enough is enough'

Braving brisk temperatures, hundreds of Hoggard High School students gathered in the school’s courtyard Wednesday morning to add their voices to those from students around the country calling for stronger gun control measures. Another walkout was scheduled at Laney High School, and social media posts Wednesday showed Ashley High students demonstrating.

Amid applause, shouts of support and some tears, the leaders of Wednesday’s event read the biographies, one by one, of the shootings’ 17 victims.

“Let them know they didn’t die in vain, that we aren’t going to let this be just another school shooting,” one of the student organizers said to thunderous applause.

“This could have been any of us, and we have got to make this stop,” another speaker said as students held up nearly a dozen homemade signs in support of Wednesday’s event.

Listening to the speakers, students nodded in agreement while some asked why politicians had allowed it to reach this point. Others embraced, openly wondering why Congress has not taken action on guns since last month’s massacre.

“Enough is enough,” was the closing chant, echoing across the school.

School district leaders in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties said this week they would not discipline students who protested peacefully Wednesday. New Hanover County Schools also offered alternatives to the walkout called "My 17," including poster-making and essay- and poem-writing centered around school safety.

Students walk out across region

It was 17 minutes of silence for students at Brunswick County Early College High School during the walkout.

Approximately 70 students gathered near the Bellamy Clocktower on the school’s campus at Brunswick County Community College. Surrounding them were their teachers, who stood back to give them space during the demonstration. A handful of police also positioned themselves around the group.

As the college’s campus bell rang at 10 a.m., the quiet herd of students began to file out of the building. Once the group was still and in place, some raised signs, calling for action and demanding answers.

“How many more children have to to die?” read one. “When did schools stop being a sanctuary?” read another.

Other students hung their heads with the eyes closed; a few held hands. As the 17 minutes came to a close, the group -- without speaking -- broke apart and made its way back into the building.

South Brunswick High School students also planned to leave class for the 17-minute demonstration.

In Pender County, a walkout at Topsail High School was held behind the school building. School officials did not allow media onto school grounds beyond the entrance on North Saint Johns Church Road.

“We don’t want media coverage of this,” assistant principal Barry West said.

Pender County Schools spokeswoman Miranda Ferguson estimated walkouts at the district's three traditional high schools had between 350 and 450 participants apiece, while one at Pender Early College High School saw 100 students walk out.

Another local protest for gun control is scheduled for March 24. Dubbed the "March for Our Lives," that event will kick off at 1 p.m. at Cape Fear Community College's downtown Wilmington campus.

Reporters Hunter Ingram, Tim Buckland and Gareth McGrath contributed to this story.

Reporter Cammie Bellamy can be reached at 910-343-2339 or