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Uvalde Native Asks ‘What if Kindness is the Answer?’
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Eric Toshalis’ son got an early start to advocating for safe schools in his future as he encouraged people to “Ban AR-15s, Not Books.”
 
 
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Thursday, May 25, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Sheena Perron choked back tears as she addressed hundreds of Wood River High School students on the anniversary of a mass shooting in her hometown of Uvalde, Texas.

“One year ago, my hometown forever changed because of an act of senseless violence,” the school librarian students who gathered for a walk-In commemorating the shooting, which left 19 elementary school students and two teachers dead. “What if kindness is the answer? Acts of kindness…can be a way we can make an immense difference in someone’s life.”

Her husband learned that first hand, said Perron, who wore a T-shirt that said “Pray for Uvalde,” when he met a survivor of the 1999 Columbine, Colo., school shooting. The student was hiding under a library table when one of the shooters noticed him.

 
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Maeve Coffelt and Jasmine Santacruz led the Walk-in to the Courtyard on behalf of the Wood River high School chapter of Amnesty International.
 

“Are you going to shoot me?” the student asked? “No, dude, just run. Just get out of here,” the gunman replied.

“I since have wondered why he let me go and not others,” the student told Perron’s husband. “It’s ust that I was nice to him is all I can think of.”

The walk-in to the school courtyard was organized by the high school’s Amnesty International members. They strung up 125 gun locks, representing 125 opportunities to save the 125 students and staff who have been killed in school shootings since 2000. Seventy-four orange ribbons strung on a clothesline in another corner of the courtyard represented the number of students who have died this year in school shootings.

Since 2000 there have been 46 active shooter events at PreK-12 schools resulting in the deaths of 125 students and staff. More than 150 have been wounded, Jasmine Santacruz told the students.

 
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Morgan Ballis recounted his journey from Marine to School Resource Officer.
 

“We want to live in an America where we feel safe at school,” said Maeve Coffelt. “We want a future.”

Morgan Ballis, WRHS school resource officer told the students of a call he got from his mother following the assassination attempt on Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in 2012.

“So much blood, so much blood,” she said, later relating how she’d helped save Gifford’s successor.

Ballis, at the time a Marine, said the impact of the violent act shook him so much that he decided to dedicate his life to understanding such incidents. While studying for a PhD in crisis management, during which he studied mass shootings, the Sandy Hook shooting occurred.

 
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librarian Sheena Perron encouraged the kids to perform acts of kindness to prevent another tragedy like that in Uvalde, Texas.
 

The solution does not lie in banning guns but applying accountability to guns, he said.

Ninety percent of school shootings were enacted by current students or former students. And 80 percent of the firearms that students used during school shootings were taken from their home, the home of an extended family member or a friend’s house. Prevent that and you prevent 80 percent of such shootings, he said.

Eric Toshalis, an educational consultant now involved with engagingresistance.com, attended the rally with his wife and toddler. The toddler clutched a flower in his chubby little hands in marked contrast to a toy gun he could have been carrying. The family, toddler included, also carried signs that said, “Thank you, WRHS Students,” “This is what leadership looks like” and “Ban AR-15s, Not Books.”

“I think all civil rights movements in this country had at their base an active youth leadership. I hope this is the beginning of this in our valley,” he said.

 
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Students examine the gun locks that can be obtained at a variety of sites, including NAMI’s office in the Wood River Campus.
 

“We love the fact that the kids are taking the initiative,” added Becky Lopez. “It’s something that needs to be spoken of more often.”

As a minute of silence drew to a close, organizers passed out small cards to which Life Savers were attached, reminding students that each of them could be a life saver if they act with kindness towards others.

“We got pretty emotional putting this together,” said Penelope Hunt.

“We just want people to learn responsibility—how to handle guns, how to keep them from getting into the wrong hands,” added Riley Jessen.

 

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