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For Red Lion school shooting survivors, gun violence march is personal

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Kelsey Lauder, right, sits for a portrait with fellow Red Lion graduate Maggie Stauffer Holroyd, who is also helping to organize the rally at York’s Continental Square 10 a.m. on March 24. (Submitted)

It’s been 15 years, but when Kelsey Lauder talks about the Red Lion Area Junior High School shooting her mind snaps back to when she was in eighth grade.

She remembers the time on the clock — 7:33 a.m. — as she debated whether to go into the cafeteria where eighth graders gathered before homeroom.

Instead, she decided to talk to one of her teachers about the previous night’s episode of “American Idol.” As she walked down the hall, she passed Principal Eugene Segro.

Moments later, in the cafeteria, 14-year-old James Sheets fatally shot Segro with a .44 caliber revolver. Sheets then pulled out another handgun and shot himself.

A few years later, at Lauder’s high school graduation, her class vowed that they wouldn’t be defined by this one event. However, she found it wouldn’t be that easy.

“It’s something that I probably haven’t gone one day in the past 15 years without it popping in my head somehow,” she said. “It wasn’t always easy to talk about, but I’m finding courage to speak about it now. And I just don’t care anymore. This is my story, and this is what happened to us.”

Like other communities around the country, the city of York plans to hold a March for Our Lives rally Saturday to protest gun violence. Lauder, 29, along with other Red Lion 2007 and 2008 graduates, are leading organization efforts. For them, Lauder said, the marches represent a reckoning with their own school shooting, a day she’s relived in vivid detail every time another shooting makes the news.

The December 14, 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut hit her especially hard. She remembers praying that it wouldn’t be bad, and collapsing at her desk at work when she learned that the shooter had killed 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as seven adults.

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The February 14 shooting at Parkland, Florida has led to a wave of school walkouts on March 15, including this one in Lancaster County. (Marie Cusick/WITF News)

“I think for me and everybody else we were just like, ‘Somebody is going to get something done,'” she said. “Some legislation will be passed. They’ll do something. And they didn’t. Nothing happened.”

But last month, after 19-year old Nikolas Cruz opened fire at his former high school in Parkland, Florida, Lauder said something was different for her. She saw that she wasn’t alone. She saw that others who experienced that tragic day in Red Lion are also helping out, along with students from Red Lion’s current class. So instead of protesting where she lives in Philadelphia, Lauder decided to head home to help organize the rally.

Red Lion Area High School senior Ali Kochik said she’s been inspired by the older graduates, as well as students her age that survived the Parkland shooting.
“After the Parkland shooting I feel like I saw a lot of my classmates wanted to express their thoughts and ideas but not necessarily knowing how or not necessarily feeling comfortable,” she said.

Kochik said gun violence has also been on her mind since December when a student brought a handgun to the high school. The student was arrested without incident, but it reminded her how vulnerable they are.

“It was handled very efficiently, but myself and everyone else were kind of shell-shocked because it could have been such a big incident,” she said.

Lauder said she and Kochik represent two different generations united in the push for stricter gun legislation, especially related to the AR-15 and similar high-capacity rifles.
Kochik says she hopes to see a variety of opinions represented at the rally, including those of gun owners.

“I don’t have the right answer, but I know the wrong answer is to do absolutely nothing, and that’s been happening far too long,” she said.

Organizers see the event as a way to find common ground among people who know there needs to be change.

Lauder says she’ll consider it a success if some of those who were in that middle school 15 years ago feel like they can finally speak up so that other children don’t have to go through what they did. Thinking back to that graduation-day vow, she says the shooting is part of who she is.

“This happened,” she said. “It is a part of my life. It is not the only thing that I am, but it does have an impact. I don’t want it to impact any more kids.”