Over 40 citizens from all age groups participated in Saturday’s March for Our Lives event, a national protest against gun violence. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
Over 40 citizens from all age groups participated in Saturday’s March for Our Lives event, a national protest against gun violence. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)

VAN WERT – Over 40 people marched from the YWCA to Fountain Park Saturday as part of the national March for Our Lives event that was sparked after the death of 17 people in a Florida school shooting. The citizens then gathered in the park to listen to a dozen speakers address gun violence.

The protest and rally, organized by Crestview junior Hannah Bouillon, was a nonpartisan event that invited the public to share ideas on what they think can be done about gun violence and how to make students feel safe at school.

Students from Crestview, Lincolnview, and Van Wert all spoke, as well as a teacher from a Lima school and a teacher from Paulding. Topics ranged from mental health, to personal experiences, to current gun laws. Sheriff Tom Riggenbach also spoke about what to do if faced with an active shooter.

“The first step in creating positive change is awareness and discussion,” said Bouillon. “Without that we have no ability to create the change we want.”

“I have grown up in a world where school shootings are a common occurrence, and I, along with many others, have grown sick of it,” added Bouillon. “I’m sick of the violence, I’m sick of the death, I’m sick of the arguing, and I’m sick of being told I’m too young to make a change.”

 

Lincolnview eighth grader Miah Miller continued the conversation and spoke about the need for increased access to mental health services and her thoughts on current gun laws.

“We need to talk about reforming gun laws,” said Miller. “I feel like many people do not like to talk about gun control because they feel like the government wants to take their guns, and that somehow it makes them unable to protect their families. I’m a hunter, I do not want to take all the guns away.”

Miller suggested background checks on every person who purchases a gun including those who buy from unlicensed sellers at gun shows.

“We need to fix this loophole,” added Miller.

While many students from the three county schools spoke about their experience with school threats, two of which happened within the last month at Van Wert and Crestview, one home school student, only identified as Emily, spoke about her experience as a survivor of gun violence.

“I was not in some dark alleyway with a man I did not know; I was in my own home, somewhere I used to feel safe,” said Emily. “I was with someone who I felt like I could trust. I insulted him, and he retaliated by grabbing the pistol at his side and aiming it at my head.”

Emily explained that she manged to get away and spoke about the other acts of violence the unnamed person had committed prior to that event. Later in life, Emily was diagnosed with PTSD from the abuse she suffered.

“We need to protect the other 14 year old girls, because when I was a danger to myself, I got a diagnosis and I got medication. When he was a danger to me, he had a gun,” said Emily. “And in case you were wondering, he actually has a lot more now.”

Emily promoted mental health screenings, stating that some people are not fit to own weapons.

Gary Gilbert, a teacher from Paulding, addressed the idea of teachers carrying weapons in schools.

“As a teacher I cringe at the thought of my school or any other school in Northwest Ohio gravitating toward this solution of arming teachers as a way to combat an active shooter,” said Gilbert. “Am I going to carry a gun on my side where a student could bump into me and grab it and do violence to his classmates? Is it going to be kept in a lock box where an active shooter gets into my classroom and I’m 20 feet away? He has an AR-15, I’m going to be scrambling for a pistol. Who’s going to win that battle?”

“I really believe these students in Parkland and the students here today from Crestview, Van Wert, and Lincolnview, and all across this country – I believe this is a movement that is not going away anytime soon,” added Gilbert. “I hope it really results in a better America for all of us.”

The rally ended with remarks from Sheriff Riggenbach who explained the best course of action when confronted with an active shooter is to use the “run, hide, fight” model.

While he explained the best option is to get away if possible, hiding or fighting may be options victims are faced with.

“The possibility exists that you’re faced with the shooter, and you got to fight for your life,” said Riggenbach who noted that if faced with this option, people should look for objects they can use as weapons. “It’s important to remember if that person gets into the room that you’re at, and they’ve got a gun and, you’re not doing anything, well, you know what the end result is.”

Riggenbach also spoke about possibly having a full-time school resource officer at Lincolnview and Crestview. Currently the two schools share an officer who spends two and a half days at each school. The department would have to hire another officer to fulfill the need and would require funding to do so.

“Am I hopeful that will happen? Absolutely,” said Riggenbach. “I really believe our community benefits from having full-time law enforcement in our schools.”

The rally went on for nearly two hours, despite the chilly temperatures.

A small group of counter-protesters gathered near the March for Our Lives protest for a period of time, but stayed near the edge of the park, and then disbanded.