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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

After a deadly shooting, CVPA students speak out

Rebecca Smith
Students from Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis gathered at the state capital in Jefferson City to share their experiences and speak with lawmakers.

In October, a deadly school shooting occurred at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School (CVPA) in St. Louis. One student, Alexzandria Bell, and one teacher, Jean Kuczka, were killed. Seven others were injured.

On Tuesday, students from the school gathered at the Capitol in Jefferson City to speak with legislators about gun violence.

KBIA's Halle Jackson reports.

Conversations and music echoed as dozens of students gathered in the third-floor rotunda of the Capitol, sharing their experiences, performing songs and showcasing artwork influenced by October’s deadly shooting.

The students also urged state lawmakers to “imagine if it was your kid."

Matthew Clyde Pace, a government teacher at CVPA, said the visit to the capital is an important part of the healing process, as students transition back into the classroom.

Bryanna Love was one of the CVPA students calling for action.

“We cannot undo the trauma that’s been leveled on to everyone in the building since that day," Love said. "But we can prevent this from happening in the future. It begins here with you. The more we allow gun violence to run rampant in the streets of Missouri, the bloodier your hands become.”

Representative Peter Meredith, whose district includes CVPA, also urged lawmakers to act.

"If I've heard anything so far from these kids, it's that they don't want more thoughts and prayers. They want action. They don't want silence," Meredith said.

State Democrats are calling for red flag gun laws, which could ban individuals who are deemed threats from owning firearms. Advocates said such a law could have helped prevent the shooting at CVPA.

Rebecca Smith
The students from CVPA showcased the artwork they have created after a deadly school shooting impacted their school last October.

In their own words

Kristie Faulstich, Social Studies Teacher
Like everyone from that day - the teachers, the students, the parents, everyone - we have objectives here today. We have laws that we would like to ask to be changed, bills to be passed and things to be done and actions to be taken, but we will have time for that later... This is not that time.

On the bus ride up here, the students came up with a slogan for what their message is today. That slogan is "Imagine if it was your kid," and that is what they want you to do today. They want you to see and hear their stories. They want you to hear their words and what they went through on that day.

Rebecca Smith
Bryanna Love was one of the students who spoke at the students' press conference. She called for lawmakers to take action on red flag gun laws in Missouri.

Bryanna Love, Senior
Since the tragedy, I've put a great deal of time and effort into studying gun laws nationally, internationally and locally. I've put so much energy into dissecting political jargon and formulating the best way to appeal to lawmakers and voters until I realized how bizarre it was that I was doing this in the first place.

I am only 17, I should be worried about moving off to college, worrying about what I'll wear to prom, worrying about who I'll give my graduation tickets to. Not how to make the voices of the dead heard.

We cannot bring Alex and Jean back. We cannot undo the trauma that's been leveled on to everyone in the building since that day, but we can prevent this from happening in the future. It begins here with you. The more we allow gun violence to run rampant in the streets of Missouri, the bloodier your hands become.

We want to hear what you are doing as our representatives to keep us all safe from gun violence. We want to hear the specific actions you are taking to prevent tragedies like this one from happening again in our state and country. We - all of us - deserve more than empty promises. We deserve action.

Rebecca Smith
Brianna Hageman, Isabella Ford and Shukri Abdullahi spoke about the importance of their friendship since the shooting. Abdullahi (right) created a collage of texts sent by her fellow students and her teachers during the deadly shooting at CVPA last October.

Shukri Abdullahi, Junior
When I'm in school, I'm so scared to even go to the bathroom alone, being caught in the hallways alone. I hold in, you know, using the bathroom until I get home. I'm just too scared. I can't really do anything without being accompanied by my friends.

It was really traumatic being under the table with all my friends shaking and crying next to me, and knowing I couldn't do anything to help. We were on the third floor, so we couldn't leave or anything from a window. It was just so scary. That day, when I got home, a water bottle fell down and I was just so scared, I jumped up.

I feel like whenever we're on the topic, and like political views, like whenever we're talking about changing gun laws, lots of people think that we're trying to take their freedom away. But I believe that we regular civilians shouldn't be able to access military grade guns, especially people with illnesses and young children. I feel like the only thing civilians should have is like a tiny one, like a little pistol or something. We shouldn't be able to access huge guns used by the army.

"You really don't understand them until you're in it, and it's the most heartbreaking, traumatizing thing that you could ever go through."
Brianna Hageman, Junior

Isabella Ford, Junior
It's very traumatizing, and everything around you triggers you. Like loud noises, they're very triggering. Like intercoms, announcements, those are very triggering. Like, basically anything loud is very triggering. Something heavy is triggering. Fire alarms are very triggering.

It's not okay, like, I still feel very uncomfortable in my school right now because I don't know if it's gonna happen again. Even if there's tons of security, I still have that feeling that it's going to happen again.

Brianna Hageman, Junior
Sometimes when I'm in my house, I'll hear ambulances and then it'll bring me back to that day. And sometimes when I'm walking through the school, I'll just remember that day - just getting out of the classroom and having the police say "hold up your hands, so you can get out safely."

And it was so scary, and I really thought I wasn't gonna make it out. To this day, I'm still scared. Sometimes I get nightmares, and it's really hard, but I have my friends, and they helped me through it a lot.

People always say, "Oh, like, a shooting can't be that bad,"... and you see shootings all the time happening... But you really don't understand them until you're in it, and it's the most heartbreaking, traumatizing thing that you could ever go through, and it's something that you couldn't ever imagine.

Rebecca Smith
Tullalah Lyons, Shayla McClendon, Jaylin McNutt and Mars Sanders spoke about the deadly shooting at CVPA last October impacted — and continues to impact — their lives.

Shayla McClendon, Senior
I'm here to help fight against gun violence. We need stricter gun laws because we shouldn't be going through this.

That day, I felt like I wasn't gonna come home... I didn't think I was gonna see tomorrow. All I could think about was my family: how much I wanted to be with them. How much it would effect them because I see every day how much my presence affects them, and every time I go home, they're always happy to see me. I don't know what it would be like if I didn't have them there with me.

I still watch my back because I don't like being by myself. So, when I'm in the hall, I always make sure there's somebody there with me. Or if there's not, I won't go at all.

Tallulah Lyons, Sophomore
I just want to make sure that people know, by passing [red flag gun laws], we could prevent history from repeating itself and that's the most important thing.

I mean, Orlando Harris, he was not mentally fit to be in possession of the gun that he had, and they knew that. Yet, they couldn't take it away from him. And if a law like this would have been passed sooner, we could have prevented all of this from happening.

Rebecca Smith
The artwork displayed by the CVPA students at the state capital in Jefferson City was varied – from collages, drawings, paintings, live musical performances and even a crocheted representation of a gun.

Mars Sander, Sophomore
From that day, we've tried to get back into like, full swing of things, but it can't really ever be the same, and I think most people understand that. It's just really hard to accept.

But now I have one job and that job is to make sure that our voices are heard and that people understand - they will never truly understand - but to understand as much as they can about what we went through and about how we're trying to make it better in the future.

Earlier today, I felt like I saw a lot of people, you know, hearing, nodding their heads, but I need people to listen and to make action. And to work because we're doing our part. We're working.

So, it's [lawmakers'] turn now... We're working to make something happen for other schools - not just for us. And they weren't even affected by this, so I feel like it's more their responsibility to make sure that this kind of thing doesn't happen again.

Jaylin McNutt, Senior
I really do feel that we're here to share our personal experience of what happened that day and how we have been impacted since that day - whether at school or elsewhere - and I think it's important for us also to be here because it's a great way for [lawmakers] to know our experience; for us to get it off our shoulders and express it to them, and to try to have things changed.

Rebecca Smith
Sophomore April Shepard said they want lawmakers to listen to them and to other young people. They called school shooting a "repetitive cycle," and added by speaking out and sharing their experience, "I hope that I could help break it."

April Shepard, Sophomore
We obviously, and unfortunately, aren't the first school shooting. And I said this before, but I want us to be the last.

And I have gotten so many cards from legislators here, telling me to contact them if I need anything...you will be contacted. And I want to contact the people who are against whatever you believe in. Why? Because I want to be heard. I don't like this school shooting, news, move on. It's a repetitive cycle, and I hope that I could help break it. Put a small dent in that cycle by being here today. I'll be here tomorrow, and the only way you're gonna get me to stop fighting for what I believe in is you're gonna have to kill me. And maybe even in the afterlife, I will be back.

I want to add that if you are scared about what might happen... I'm so sorry. I apologize that you can't feel safe in the comfort of your school, which is supposed to be a home away from home. I'm sorry that you can't probably feel comfortable in your home. I apologize.

And if it were up to me, you would never have to feel that way. But I'm just a 16-year-old person and I'm trying to make it in this world. And I'm with you, as long as you're with me.

Halle Jackson is a senior in the Missouri School of Journalism studying cross-platform editing and producing.
Rebecca Smith is a reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. She was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, and graduated with degrees in Journalism and Chemistry from Truman State University in May 2014. Rebecca comes to KBIA from St. Louis Public Radio, where she worked as the news intern and covered religion, neighborhood growth and the continued unrest in Ferguson, MO.
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