Students crowded into an English classroom at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy Wednesday afternoon, filling the desks, sitting on the floor and standing against the wall.
At the front of the room, junior Elizabeth Whiteman flipped through slides of gun statistics and tweets sent out by politicians after last week’s fatal school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“I think it’s clear, at least to me, that the action needs to be happening and the people who should be taking action are not taking action, so that falls to people like us,” Whiteman told her classmates. “We have a lot of power, we have human bodies, we have voices, and people will listen to us if we speak.”
And then the planning for a walkout began.
A week after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, students in at least two Flagstaff high schools are organizing their own responses to the massacre that left 17 people dead. Their efforts came as students from Parkland and elsewhere converged on the Florida Capitol Wednesday to demand changes in gun laws (see related story).
At FALA, students are planning to join a national school walkout on March 14, exactly a month after the shooting. Students across the country are planning to walk out for 17 minutes — one minute for every person who was killed. At their meeting Wednesday, FALA students talked about making their way out to Fort Valley Road holding signs and repeating chants to better communicate the walkout’s intention.
“Adult voices have dominated this conversation for a long time,” English teacher Allison Gruber said to the students. “This walkout is an opportunity for young people, for teenagers...to have a voice in the conversation.”
At Flagstaff High School, students have a different plan for March 14. Senior student council members Maddy Christopher, Taylore Lowry and Joshua Vallecillo say they are planning to hold informational meetings for students, parents, teachers and the public about what to expect at the school during an active shooter situation.
The trio isn’t looking to start a discussion on gun regulations or gun control. They want their meetings to instead be events where attendees can ask questions and learn more about protocols in place to keep students safe in school. They also want to drive home the seriousness of regular lockdown drills at school.
There have been few conversations about the shooting in school, between classmates or with teachers, the students said.
“I think it’s still too raw yet,” Lowry said. “It’s a touchy subject. There are people on both sides of the issue who feel very strongly.”
Initially, the shooting wasn’t being discussed at FALA, either, a response that in Whiteman’s eyes seemed to normalize the event, as if a school shooting is now so common that it doesn’t merit being brought up in class. Upset, she and a few other students started searching for ways to take action.
Though they have lived through past school shootings, this one crossed a line, said Diego de Toledo, a junior at FALA.
“I was always devastated about it but for some reason I had a belief that the adults representing us would do something about it. Finally I’m realizing...that it’s not going to happen if I don’t do anything,” de Toledo said.
The fact that students from Marjory Stoneman are speaking out for change is a strong impetus for other students to do the same, said Hannah Staudinger, a junior at FALA.
“If they hadn’t stood up immediately afterwards and said ‘We're done’...this could have gone by as another thing that just happened," Staudinger said.
Lowry, at FHS, echoed those thoughts.
“Seeing kids going out to make a change in their community is very powerful,” he said.
Technology has made this shooting different as well, the FALA students said.
Students at the high school used their phones to record video as the gunman was firing shots and then posted them to the internet.
“In no other shooting have we been able to see and feel what was going on,” Whiteman said.
Social media allows young people to hear, see and connect with each other directly, which helps foster a feeling of solidarity that has propelled students to stand with those in Florida, Staudinger said.
At the same time, the shooting has changed the way he sees his school and his classmates, de Toledo said.
“To be honest I see myself looking at locks on doors, looking at glass windows and thinking about a shooter being able to come in if they wanted to. I see myself looking at other students and thinking ‘I don’t even know who's thinking about these kinds of things around me.’ It’s a problem of understanding what suffering students are going through,” he said.
But it’s also a problem of allowing one person to obtain a weapon that can kill more than a dozen people within a matter of minutes, de Toledo said.
“I think the idea of protection with guns is naive. I think it's only looking at it from an individualistic perspective versus a societal perspective of do we want our children — do we want our communities — to be safe or would we rather have our fancy toys?” de Toledo said.
The walkout intends to send a simpler message though, de Toledo said.
“We're walking out to demonstrate that this is our school, we need to be safe here and if it’s not going to be safe we're not going to be here,” he said.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A week after a shooter slaughtered 17 people in a Florida high school, thousands of protesters, including many angry teenagers, swarmed into the state Capitol on Wednesday, calling for changes to gun laws, a ban on assault-type weapons and improved care for the mentally ill.
The normally staid Florida Statehouse filled with students, among them more than 100 survivors of the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, on the edge of the Everglades. They held signs, chanted slogans and burst into lawmakers' offices demanding to be heard.
The teens were welcomed into the gun-friendly halls of power, but the students' top goal — a ban on assault-style rifles such as the weapon used in the massacre — was taken off the table a day earlier, although more limited measures are still possible.
Many protesters complained that lawmakers were not serious about reform, and they said they would oppose in future elections any legislator who accepts campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association.
"We've spoke to only a few legislators and ... the most we've gotten out of them is, 'We'll keep you in our thoughts. You are so strong. You are so powerful,'" said Delaney Tarr, a senior at the high school. "We know what we want. We want gun reform. We want commonsense gun laws. ... We want change."
She added: "We've had enough of thoughts and prayers. If you supported us, you would have made a change long ago. So this is to every lawmaker out there: No longer can you take money from the NRA. We are coming after you. We are coming after every single one of you, demanding that you take action."
Outside the building, the crowd burst into chants of "Vote them out!" as speakers called for the removal of Republican lawmakers who refuse to address gun control issues. One sign read, "Remember the men who value the NRA over children's lives" and then listed Republicans in Florida's congressional delegation. Other signs said, "Kill the NRA, not our kids" and "These kids are braver than the GOP."
About 30 people left an anti-gun rally outside Florida's Old Capitol and began a sit-in protest at the office of four House Republican leaders, demanding a conversation about gun legislation.
"They're not speaking to us right now. We only asked for five minutes and so we're just sitting until they speak," Tyrah Williams, a 15-year-old sophomore at Leon High School, which is within walking distance of the Capitol.
In Washington, students and parents delivered emotional appeals to President Donald Trump to act on school safety and guns. The president promised to be "very strong on background checks," adding that "we're going to do plenty of other things."
And at a news conference Wednesday, Broward County, Florida, Sheriff Scott Israel ordered all deputies who qualify to begin carrying rifles on school grounds. The rifles will be locked in patrol cars when not in use until the agency secures gun lockers and lockers, he said.
"We need to be able to defeat any threat that comes into campus," Israel said.
The sheriff said the school superintendent fully supported his decision.
Stoneman Douglas' school resource officer was carrying a weapon when the shooting happened last week, but did not discharge his firearm. It's unclear what role he played in the shooting. The sheriff said those details are still being investigated.
At a town hall held by CNN in Sunrise, Florida, on Wednesday night, thousands of angry students, teachers and parents booed Republican Sen. Marco Rubio when he indicated that he would not support an assault-weapons ban and applauded Dem. Rep. Bill Nelson when he pushed Rubio to work on a bill that they both could support. They also booed a spokeswoman from the NRA when she said the answer was not to ban weapons but to ensure they stay out of the hands of the mentally ill.
Meanwhile, in a wave of demonstrations reaching from Arizona to Maine, students at dozens of U.S. high schools walked out of class Wednesday to protest gun violence and honor the victims of last week's deadly shooting in Florida.
The protests spread from school to school as students shared plans for their demonstrations over social media. Many lasted 17 minutes in honor of the 17 people killed one week earlier at Stoneman Douglas.
Hundreds of students from Maryland schools left class to rally at the U.S. Capitol. Hundreds more filed out of their schools in cities from Chicago to Pittsburgh to Austin, Texas, often at the lunch hour.
The suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, has been jailed on 17 counts of murder. Defense attorneys, state records and people who knew him indicate that he displayed behavioral troubles for years, including getting kicked out of the Parkland school. He owned a collection of weapons.
"How is it possible that this boy that we all knew was clearly disturbed was able to get an assault rifle, military grade, and come to our school and try to kill us?" one 16-year-old student asked the president of the state Senate, Joe Negron.
Negron did not answer directly. "That's an issue that we're reviewing," he said.
When another lawmaker said he supported raising the age to buy assault-style weapons to 21 from 18, the students broke into applause.
WASHINGTON — Spilling out wrenching tales of lost lives and stolen security, students and parents appealed to President Donald Trump on Wednesday to set politics aside and protect America's school children from the scourge of gun violence. Trump listened intently to the raw emotion and pledged action, including the possibility of arming teachers.
"I turned 18 the day after" the shooting, said a tearful Samuel Zeif, a student at the Florida high school where a former student's assault left 17 dead last week. "Woke up to the news that my best friend was gone. And I don't understand why I can still go in a store and buy a weapon of war. An AR. How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon? How do we not stop this after Columbine? After Sandy Hook?"
Trump promised to be "very strong on background checks." And he suggested he supported allowing some teachers and other school employees to carry concealed weapons to be ready for intruders. But largely he listened, holding handwritten notes bearing his message to the families. "I hear you" was written in black marker.
The president had invited the teen survivors of school violence and parents of murdered children in a show of his resolve against gun violence in the wake of last week's shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and in past years at schools in Connecticut and Colorado. The latest episode has prompted a renewed and growing call for stronger gun control.
Trump invited his guests to suggest solutions and solicited feedback. He did not fully endorse any specific policy solution, but pledged to take action and expressed interest in widely differing approaches.
Besides considering concealed carrying of weapons by trained school employees, a concept he has endorsed in the past, he said he planned to go "very strongly into age, age of purchase." And he said he was committed to improving background checks and working on mental health.
Most in the group were emotional but quiet and polite.
But Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed last week, noted the previous school massacres and raged over his loss, saying this moment isn't about gun laws but about fixing the schools.
"It should have been one school shooting and we should have fixed it and I'm pissed. Because my daughter, I'm not going to see again," said Pollack. "King David Cemetery, that is where I go to see my kid now."
A strong supporter of gun rights, Trump has nonetheless indicated in recent days that he is willing to consider ideas not in keeping with National Rifle Association orthodoxy, including age restrictions for buying assault-type weapons. Still, gun owners are a key part of his base of supporters.
The NRA quickly rejected any talk of raising the age for buying long guns to 21.
"Legislative proposals that prevent law-abiding adults aged 18-20 years old from acquiring rifles and shotguns effectively prohibits them for purchasing any firearm, thus depriving them of their constitutional right to self-protection," the group said in a statement.
Several dozen people assembled in the White House State Dining Room. Among them were students from Parkland along with their parents. Also present were parents of students killed in massacres at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Students and parents from the Washington area also were present.
The student body president at the Parkland school, Julia Cordover, tearfully told Trump that she "was lucky enough to come home from school."
She added, "I am confident you will do the right thing."
Trump later tweeted that he would "always remember" the meeting. "So much love in the midst of so much pain. We must not let them down. We must keep our children safe!!"
Not all the students impacted by the shooting came to the White House.
David Hogg, who has been one of the students actively calling for gun control was invited but declined, said his mother Rebecca Boldrick.
"His point was (Trump needs) to come to Parkland, we're not going there," she said.
Throughout the day Wednesday, television news showed footage of student survivors of the violence marching on the Florida state Capitol, calling for tougher laws. The protests came closer to Trump, too, with hundreds of students from suburban Maryland attending a rally at the Capitol and then marching to the White House.
Inside the executive mansion, Trump said at the end of an hour listening to tales of pain and anguish, "Thank you for pouring out your hearts because the world is watching and we're going to come up with a solution."
Television personality Geraldo Rivera had dinner with Trump at his private Palm Beach club over the weekend and described Trump as "deeply affected" by his visit Friday with Parkland survivors. In an email, Rivera said he and Trump discussed the idea of raising the minimum age to purchase assault-type weapons.
Trump "suggested strongly that he was going to act to strengthen background checks," Rivera said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said Wednesday they would introduce a bill to raise the minimum age required to purchase rifles from gun dealers, including assault weapons such as the AR-15.
"A kid too young buy a handgun should be too young to buy an #AR15," Flake said on Twitter. A buyer must be 21 to purchase a handgun from a licensed gun dealer.
Three years ago, city officials and neighbors were winging it as they grappled with applications for massive new student housing projects like The Hub and The Standard.
Both projects were eventually approved and are under construction after considerable public outcry over scale and density.
But now, a 151-page document will be the go-to place for developers looking to build future high-occupancy housing in Flagstaff and neighbors looking to hold them accountable to specific design and land use standards.
The intent is to address issues like housing supply and density while enhancing the character and economic vitality of the city.
The High Occupancy Housing Specific Plan was unanimously approved by the Flagstaff City Council Tuesday night after nearly two years of public meetings, drafts and revisions. The plan outlines a series of goals and policies as well as implementation strategies in the short and long term for how the city can influence new housing developments in a state where robust private property rights make it too expensive for a city to simply downzone a parcel.
The plan defines high occupancy as at least 30 units or 75 bedrooms per acre, which are generally student housing projects. Sara Dechter, the city’s comprehensive planning manager, held more than 30 public meetings to define the community’s goals and ideals for where and what this type of development should be.
While some residents may never be happy with new high-density projects, Dechter said the additions will play a big role in bringing needed housing supply to the city.
“The supply shortage is so big,” she said. “Saying no to high-occupancy projects of any kind is unrealistic if affordability is a priority for the city.”
The planning process began in response to fights between the city and residents over The Hub, a 591-bed apartment complex on 2.5 acres under construction on Milton Road and Mikes Pike.
Goals of the plan include promoting projects that connect and enhance existing land use patterns and become part of complete activity centers; leveraging developers to create more efficient transportation systems; enhancing public spaces; and incentivizing historic preservation, promoting sustainability and affordability and setting legislative goals relating to high occupancy development.
Each goal comes with a series of policies that vary from specific to general.
One of the policies Dechter highlighted in earlier presentations is to no longer abandon alleyways, and not to allow them to be fully enclosed, while promoting the creation of new alleyways. The policy would prevent one building from filling an entire city block -- it would need to be broken into smaller pieces to accommodate the alley.
Other policies include high-density projects adding diverse types of housing choices for multiple types of households, increasing multimodal transportation options when the projects are built and developers providing visual analysis of impacts to views of the San Francisco Peaks, Mount Elden and Observatory Mesa.
However, although the city can use the plan to show developers what it would like to see in new projects, if someone buys a parcel that is already zoned to allow high-occupancy housing, there is not much the city can do to require adherence to the plan’s policies.
The real enforcement, Dechter said, is when a developer asks for a rezoning on his or her property. Then, the staff can recommend approval or denial on the change based on the owner’s adherence to the new plan.
Within the plan, there are a series of changes that will have to be followed by zoning code changes to be enforceable, Dechter said. One of the changes, the creation of two “historic activity centers” that require developers to prioritize community character goals, coincides with two places in the city where large-scale high occupancy development is already allowed by zoning rights. Dechter said the plan will rely on updates to the zoning code to more clearly define what type of development will be allowed in those areas.
Even if a developer is not seeking a rezoning, they will be given the plan to review and city staff will discuss different strategies the city would like to see in new projects, even if they are not enforceable. Developers who wish to build in Flagstaff might also take the plan into consideration before even submitting any documentation to the city, Dechter said.
“If someone is looking into coming to Flagstaff, they will look at these as market research,” she said.
Other departments in the city are ready to embrace some of the goals of the plan as well, she said.
Both the sustainability and housing divisions are prepared to incentivize desirable types of development, such as those with a recycling plan or those that bring infrastructure improvements.
The plan calls for changes to several different codes, including zoning, which Dechter said will not come easily but will be necessary to keep the plan viable.
“I hope the adoption of this shows we are committed to pursuing this path,” Dechter said.
“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” is an oft-repeated saying coined by the Spanish philosopher George Santayana.
The same goes for science history, says Frank von Hippel, a professor of ecotoxicology at Northern Arizona University.
“We can avoid a lot of mistakes if we understand how problems were solved in the past,” von Hippel said.
In addition to his teaching and research duties, von Hippel’s newest project focuses on highlighting interesting stories of science’s past and making them available via a more modern medium: podcasts.
His Science History Podcast combines historical audio and interviews with scientists to immerse the listener in some moment or theme in science history, such as legislators’ attacks on scientific research that date back to the 1950s. He also tries to interview people who helped make that history, such as a scientist who pioneered the field of endocrine disruption for an episode on those calling attention to toxic chemicals.
A fan of listening to podcasts and an author of science history books, von Hippel said the impetus to start his own podcast in December was the Trump administration’s attacks on science and science-focused institutions like the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
“There is a need for more avenues for increasing science literacy so people understand what's at stake,” von Hippel said.
People don’t understand how much of their day-to-day lives depend on technologies or discoveries that originate in scientific research, so they aren’t there to advocate for government support of that important work or speak out against spending cuts to scientific agencies, he said.
The podcast is a way for him to reach out to more people and a broader audience to help them understand the role science plays in their lives, von Hippel said.
His episodes tie into current events and do come with a political edge. Von Hippel tells listeners that the focus of January’s episode on nuclear disarmament was motivated by the possibility that “world annihilation rests with the twitching fingertips of a dictator in North Korea and a narcissist in Washington.”
And the Trump administration’s attacks on science and scientists inspired von Hippel’s episode this month on one politician who, more than 50 years ago, targeted and mocked what he viewed as wasteful government spending on science.
But in taking a historical perspective that focuses on how we ended up with the problem or solution we have today, von Hippel said he hopes to pull the podcast away from the partisan battles that have rubbed the country raw.
“Part of what I want to do is talk through issues in a civil way... so that people can make informed decisions when they vote, informed decisions when they spend money, informed decisions when they send their kids to school, informed decisions when they go to the pediatrician and are trying to decide whether to vaccinate their kid,” he said.
Support of science and the environment shouldn’t be partisan and the past shows that is possible, he said. The nation’s most important environmental laws, like the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act, were all passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by a Republican president.
Von Hippel puts out one new Science History Podcast episode a month and already has a list of about 30 ideas he’d like to tackle, including the history of Pluto and the management of the Environmental Protection Agency under the Reagan administration.
His position gives him access to scientists all over the world who are working on interesting problems, so those are other good sources of content, he said.
Podcasts like von Hippel’s are a great way to delve deeper into more niche topics, connect people directly to those at the center of a story and introduce listeners to things they may not know about, said Brian Rackham, a professor of practice in journalism at NAU who has helped with the Science History Podcast.
Von Hippel has all the makings of a good podcaster, Rackham said: a good idea that he is passionate about, a lot of contacts and a lot of great stories.
He said he hopes von Hippel’s experience will inspire other professors at the university to try out podcasting as a way to provide the public a window into their work.
In von Hippel’s case, he is “telling people why they should care about science,” Rackham said.