After Florida shooting, teens say Charlotte could be next. And they want to be ready.

After Florida shooting, teens say Charlotte could be next. And they want to be ready.
Students at a special meeting of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Youth Voice brainstorm ideas for responding to school shootings. (Credit: Ann Doss Helms | The Charlotte Observer)
Jackson Lohrer of Independence High (right) said armed teachers are the best way to keep students safe from armed attackers. (Credit: Ann Doss Helms | The Charlotte Observer)
Jackson Lohrer of Independence High (right) said armed teachers are the best way to keep students safe from armed attackers. (Credit: Ann Doss Helms | The Charlotte Observer)
“We need to take this as a personal responsibility and a call to action,” said Myers Park High student Emma-Katherine Bowers (left). (Credit: Ann Doss Helms | The Charlotte Observer)
“We need to take this as a personal responsibility and a call to action,” said Myers Park High student Emma-Katherine Bowers (left). (Credit: Ann Doss Helms | The Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Ann Doss Helms/The Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte teens who were born into an era of mass school shootings said Tuesday that last week's attack on a Florida high school hit them harder than any other.

"This could have been my high school," said Carmen Sosa, a junior at Harding High. The horror, she said, was amplified by the fact that the person who killed 14 students and three faculty was a former classmate. "He came back as a killer. It really makes me think about whether I'm safe."

Sosa was among about 20 students from across Mecklenburg County who attended an emergency meeting of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Youth Council to discuss feelings and actions in the wake of the latest mass killing at a school. The Youth Council, which advises city, county and CMS leaders, was created by GenerationNation, a nonprofit youth civics group.

Several said the shooting eroded their sense of safety. Most said they want to be better protected and prepared if a gunman comes to their school. They say students and faculty tend to take lockdown drills in stride, but now they want specific instructions on how to save themselves and classmates if someone comes in shooting. Several suggested holding "active shooter" drills in addition to lockdown and fire drills.

"We all need to be prepared that this could happen in our school," said Myers Park High sophomore Emma-Katherine Bowers.

There were disagreements about how Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools should respond, though.

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Jackson Lohrer, an Independence High senior, argued against gun control and suggested that schools should train and arm select teachers with 9 mm handguns that could be accessed only in case of attack, sort of like sprinklers that turn on only when there's a fire. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he said.

Righteous Keitt, a junior at Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology, scoffed at that plan, saying gun control has to be part of the solution. Expecting teachers to grab guns and fight "would only lead to worse problems," he said. "We don't need any more guns in schools."

But Keitt, Lohrer and several other speakers agreed on the need for better support for people with mental illness – including a call for more counselors and school psychologists who can work with troubled students.

Most of today's high school students were born shortly after a mass shooting at Colorado's Columbine High School stunned Americans of that generation. The teens noted that they've grown up with intermittent reports of school shootings, but this one seemed more personal because it involved their peers.

But Bowers said some classmates still laughed through discussions of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Fla.

"It's like it's a video game and they're so desensitized," she said. "It's heartbreaking."

While students were strategizing in Charlotte, Wake County students joined hundreds who marched to the state Capitol building in Raleigh to mourn the dead and demand an end to gun violence.

In Charlotte, students at South Mecklenburg High were given 17 minutes Tuesday to gather in outdoor courtyards to honor the Florida victims and talk about what should change. They also had a chance to write letters to express their feelings and outline their hopes for action, CMS said.

In neighboring Gaston County, South Point High School students walked out of class Tuesday and stood by the road chanting "Enough is enough" and "It ends here," the Gaston Gazette reported.

CMS has told principals to expect student walkouts and protests, especially during national walkout days March 14 and April 20. A march on Washington, D.C., is also planned for March 24, which is a Saturday.

Jalen Lowery, a junior at Hawthorne High, told the Youth Council group Tuesday that protest is part of the formula needed to force change. "If you're not getting in their face," he said, "nobody's going to listen."