CAMBRIDGE — Hundreds of students walked out of local high schools at 8:17 a.m. Wednesday and observed a 17-minute silence to protest gun violence in schools and demand new laws to help make children safer.
Organizers from the group Students Against Gun Violence chose the number 17 in memory of the 14 students and three adults killed last month in a shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
At Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, more than 400 teenagers gathered solemnly in the frigid morning air, some leaning on classmates for support, as snow heralding the approaching nor’easter began to fall lightly upon their knit hats and hooded sweat shirts.
Amid the silence, some students held signs delivering pointed criticisms of adults — especially elected officials — who have failed to make the country’s schools safe:
“Thoughts and prayers are not enough.”
“Silence = Complicity.”
“Adults like us when we have strong test scores but they hate us when we have strong opinions.”
Eloise Botka, 17, was one of the organizers of the Cambridge walkout. As she marched with her schoolmates after the silent protest to meet peers from Somerville High School in Union Square, Botka said students in many American schools don’t feel safe or comfortable.
“We realize that this has been a problem since before we were born, and nothing has happened about it, starting with the Columbine shooting, then the shooting at Sandy Hook, and then recently the Parkland shooting,” Botka said. “It just keeps getting worse.”
Somerville High students helped plan Wednesday’s walkout, which followed one at their school last week. Their second walkout expanded not just to Cambridge, but also to Medford and Arlington, and many other area schools plan to join next Wednesday in a national walkout.
John Perella, headmaster of Medford High School, said students who left campus and went to Union Square were not suspended or punished Wednesday but were not allowed to return to classes after they got back to the school and may face “consequences for civil disobedience.”
Perella said students who only participated in the campus protest would not face consequences.
The headmaster said he spoke to the students who had left campus after they returned.
“I had a really great conversation with all of them. I think they would say the same thing,” he said. He added that there are “a lot of positive things that came out of today.”
Perella said the school supports student activism, but he also has concerns about safety.
He said he wants to discuss further with students both how the school can “address valid concerns students have” and “how to prevent random student walkouts in the future.”
Sam Dornstein, 15, one of the organizers from Somerville High, said students will continue building their movement, and after next week’s walkout, hundreds of teenagers will visit the State House to lobby legislators in person.
“We as students, across the Boston area, across Massachusetts . . . are not going to stop until we see the action that we feel is going to make our places of education safer,” Dornstein said.
The students are part of a movement born in response to the massacre in Florida, where outspoken survivors have become activists demanding better protections for schools in a nation where mass murders in classrooms have become routine.
As they huddled together in Union Square under canvas canopies in the freezing rain, Cambridge and Somerville students phoned members of the state Legislature’s Committee on Public Safety and asked them to support a bill that would allow the use of extreme risk protection orders to bar gun possession for those deemed by a judge to be dangerous to themselves or others.
Cambridge student Sam Peck, 17, called the first senator on a list handed out at the protest and left a voicemail.
“I don’t know how much it’s going to get heard, but if enough of us keep calling, hopefully we’ll get through,” Peck said.
Nearby, Cambridge student Josh Dunbar, 16, held a sign bearing the name Alyssa Alhadeff and the number 14 — the name and age of one of the teens killed at Stoneman Douglas High.
“We’re just trying . . . to show a memorial to her, so we can spread awareness about this,” Dunbar said. He said he couldn’t imagine the grief of Alhadeff’s family. “She hasn’t even lived half of her life, not even a quarter of her life.”
Cliff Lucien, 18, said active shooter drills had become a regular part of school life after the Sandy Hook massacre, and he’s always aware that he could be in danger.
“I don’t know what could happen today. Tomorrow’s not promised,” he said. “You just always have to keep that in your head. Anything could happen.”
Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.