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Colorado students walk out as school shooting vigil turns political

Posted: 9:25 PM, May 09, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-09 22:25:02-04
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A vigil held Wednesday evening to recognize the victims and heroes of the shooting earlier this week at a Colorado high school turned into a political protest after some students in attendance expressed frustration with the tone and focus of the speeches.

According to local news reports , a group of students walked out of the event, organized by a local chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, after hearing speeches from members of the community, including activists and elected officials like Senator Michael Bennet, a Democratic presidential candidate, and Rep. Jason Crow, who represents the district where Tuesday's shooting took place.

Both Bennet and Crow were invited by the Brady Campaign to speak at the event, which took place at a nearby high school, and also attended another vigil Wednesday night at a nearby church.

Speakers at the event, which honored Kendrick Castillo , the 18-year-old who was killed protecting his fellow classmates at the STEM School in Highlands Ranch, also talked about the need to take action in the wake of another tragic school shooting and reform the nation's gun laws.

"I know our kids already have enough to do, they have a job to do when they come to school, you have a job to do when you come to school," Bennet, the former Superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, said before praising Castillo's bravery. "Their job is not to fix America's broken gun laws. Their job is not, as Kendrick so selflessly did yesterday, to give up their own life to save their classmates lives. Or the teachers' lives. That's not their job."

"You sent me to Washington to speak the truth. So here it is – we are failing. We are failing when this happens over and over and over and over again and nothing happens," Crow, a gun owner and former Army Ranger elected to Congress last year, said. "You already have my thoughts and prayers, but you deserve and should demand more. Because to only send thoughts and prayers when you're a member of Congress or when you're in a position to take action and to affect change, it is empty, it is hollow, and you and your children deserve more."

On Thursday, Crow spoke with ABC News' Senior Washington Reporter Devin Dwyer about the protest, saying he supported the students' demand that they be given a chance to speak.

"It was a very emotional night, which I completely understand, these are students that had just gone through a horrific tragedy...And it became apparent halfway through the event that they weren’t being given an opportunity to speak," Crow said.

"So they stood up, as they should have, and demanded an opportunity to speak, and I supported that. I stayed late until every student was heard and had their opportunity to tell us how they felt about this issue and just express that emotion. So it was really important that we keep the focus on the students," he added.

The tenor of the vigil seemed to shift after some in the audience began to express frustration that the event was not solely focused on remembering the heroes and victims of the shooting.

"This can be an incredibly divisible or painful or awful time, or it can be a time when we come together," another speaker at the event told the packed gymnasium.

After a number of speeches, one student in the audience shouted "Let STEM kids speak!" and video from the event from ABC News affiliate KMGH showed students chanting "Mental Health," as they left the event and gathered in the parking lot outside the gym.

Students later re-entered the event and vented their frustration at the media and politicians.

“What happened at STEM is awful, but it’s not a statistic. We can’t be used for a reason for gun control. We are people, not a statement,” one student said after the event.

The Brady Campaign issued an apology Thursday afternoon, saying that all efforts should be focused on providing support to the students, faculty, and families affected by the tragic shooting.

"We are here to lift up the voices of victims and survivors...We are deeply sorry any part of this vigil did not provide the support, caring and sense of community we sought to foster and facilitate and which we know is so crucial to communities who suffer the trauma of gun violence," the statement said.

In the days after the shooting, Castillo, who was killed three days before graduation, has been remembered for his kindness and bravery.

John Castillo, Kendrick Castillo's father, called his son's death "devastating, as you can imagine."

"When I see the people that he saved, it made me happy," John Castillo said. "I knew my son wouldn’t have it any other way. But as any parent would tell you, 'It's a heck of a trade-off.'"

ABC News' Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.