Saugus High students protest for gun laws

Event organizer Mia Tretta, 17 , left, leads a chant for new gun laws as she joins other Saugus High School students on the corner of Centurion Way and Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus on Thursday, 052622. Dan Watson/The Signal
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About 150 Saugus High School students walked out of class Thursday, participants said, to protest for gun laws following the Robb Elementary School shooting Tuesday in Uvalde, Texas.  

Not even three years after a Saugus High student shot five schoolmates on campus, killing two before killing himself, students said they’re yet again faced with another shooting in this country. They held up signs and chanted to passing motorists on Bouquet Canyon Road at Centurion Way in Saugus, expressing their concerns with lawmakers who, according to several students involved, aren’t doing anything to end gun violence in America.  

Saugus High School students Zaide Rihani, 14, second from left, and Holden Smith, center, join other Saugus High School students as they protest on the corner of Centurion Way and Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus on Thursday, 052622. Dan Watson/The Signal

Mia Tretta, a 17-year-old Saugus High junior who was hit with gunfire during the Nov. 14, 2019, shooting, said Students Demand Action — the nonprofit group that advocates for gun control — put out a call Wednesday afternoon to protest as part of a nationwide school walkout. Tretta got to work right away. The walkout she helped organize began around 9 a.m. Thursday, she said, and students returned to the school campus before noon.  

“I think this is a nonpartisan issue,” Tretta told The Signal during the demonstration. “This is about kids’ lives who are being ripped away from families. There’s 21 empty seats at a kitchen table right now. There’s 21 families who are crying in bed tonight, and that’s not OK. This can’t keep happening and you can’t just keep saying, ‘I’m so angry, I’m so furious, this can’t keep happening,’ and then let it happen again without change.” 

Back in April, Tretta traveled to the White House and shared her story about the Saugus High shooting as part of a press conference where President Joe Biden unveiled new ghost gun regulations. During her comments, she talked about how she and her family joined various activist groups and have been working to prevent these shootings from happening again. 

Thursday’s walkout was one more way to fight for the cause, she said. And when she called upon students to demonstrate, most were receptive, she said. Tretta did find some, however, who were opposed to what they were doing. 

“People value guns over people’s lives,” she added. “That’s how I feel. If you say, ‘Well no, we don’t need that, we need Second Amendment, we need more guns, we need this, we need that, we need open carry, we need armed teachers,’ that’s just not true. More guns are just going to make the problem bigger. And that’s an unfortunate thing that they believe that, and that’s who’s kind of leading our society right now, clearly, if nothing’s changed.” 

Tretta said that some of the students who were opposed to the walkout made themselves known Thursday morning. As she and her fellow classmates were gathering, one of these students threw milk at them and others screamed in their faces. School staff, however, was encouraging, she added. 

“I did contact our principal, who was in support,” Tretta said. “She just kind of was like, ‘Alright, do what you got to do.’” 

Calillon Garcia, 17, joins other Saugus High School students as they protest on the corner of Centurion Way and Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus on Thursday, 052622. Dan Watson/The Signal

Principal Genevieve Peterson Henry did not comment for this story, as she was not talking to the media on the matter, according to Dave Caldwell, spokesman for the William S. Hart Union High School District. 

Asked if students from other Hart district schools had demonstrated, Caldwell said he was unaware of any other walkouts, aside from a few students he’d heard about from Valencia High School. But he had no further details. 

At least one Saugus High parent came to school shortly after the walkout to take her two kids out of class. Maria Genitempo, who has a freshman student and a senior at the school, said she feared the protest might escalate. She added that she’s beyond frustrated with the number of shootings taking place across the country, the Texas school account opening old wounds for the Saugus community. 

“It’s been a struggle,” Genitempo told The Signal. “We tried to make them recover from the incident here and uplift them, like this was a one-time thing, this is not going to happen again. And then again, something like this happens.” 

Despite Genitempo’s concerns that the demonstration Thursday could get out of hand, the events seemed to remain peaceful. The students who walked out appeared to just want their voices to be heard. 

“I think if adults aren’t going to make the changes, we have to,” Tretta said. “And that’s the only way. I just urge people to vote and I urge people to think about us when they are voting.” 

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