Stop Hijacking Students’ Grief after School Shootings

In praise of the mourners who walked out of the STEM School vigil

On Wednesday, a vigil was held at the STEM School in Colorado to commemorate and honor the bravery of Kendrick Castillo — the 18-year-old student who gave his life rushing a shooter who was threatening the lives of his classmates. During the vigil, Senator Michael Bennet (D.) and Representative Jason Crow (D.) departed from memorializing Castillo and began to agitate for gun control.

Suddenly the vigil erupted. Within moments, hundreds of heartbroken teens began to walk out in protest against the politicization of their trauma.

Their bravery is heartwarming. I know all too well from the shooting at my high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, how broken one can be in the aftermath. Nevertheless, the students walking out of the vigil–turned–gun-control rally had the integrity to reject the growing moral disintegration in our country. Increasingly, we are seeing outside political groups and politicians, devoid of any decency, seizing and politicizing tragic events instantly for political gain. On the day the shooting occurred at my school, gun-control groups and politicians waited only hours before politicizing the event for their own profit.

This was abhorrent behavior then, and it is abhorrent now. Let kids mourn. Let them grieve. Let them process their trauma before outside forces descend.

What is a reasonable amount of time to wait before politicizing an event? I don’t know, specifically. But I do know when the timing is wrong. Certainly, it’s disingenuous, morally bankrupt, and exploitative for outside groups to push for gun-control policies — which, remember, many victims steadfastly oppose — before the dead have been buried.

Let me be clear: There is nothing wrong with students and their parents speaking out in any way they see fit. If those affected by violence want to rise up and push for gun control — or to push to arm teachers — that is their prerogative. That’s precisely what my peers and I did: We channeled our grief to enact change (naturally, most of my peers pushed for different policy proposals from those I did). By contrast, there is a lot wrong with the hijacking of vigils, memorial services, and funerals for political purposes. If outside forces want to help immediately, they can provide support for the grieving and elevate the names of the heroes and the victims, while ensuring that no notoriety is given to the killer in the media or anywhere else.

Kendrick Castillo gave his life to defend his classmates. Elevate this hero’s name. Remember him. We can argue about politics later.