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D.C. high school students gather for gun violence summit

D.C. high school students gather for gun violence summit. (Photo: Richard Reeve, ABC7)

It was a lesson in school safety, survival, and the struggle for change.

“The main thing about gun violence is, a lot of people don’t expect it to happen,” says Zyan Bangura-Williams, a senior at Dunbar High School.

Bangura-Williams was among dozens of students from across the country, attending a student summit, just blocks from the US Capitol.

The idea: to talk about gun violence, and how to make it stop.

“We just say there’s another kid dead, there’s another person who’s been shot,” Bangura-Williams says. “We don’t really put a name to the face, we don’t really see that these people are human.”

Eight months after the shootings in Parkland, Florida that left seventeen people dead, students and teachers are gathering at a downtown hotel, looking for solutions.

“I think kids are scared,” says Becky Miller, a social studies teacher at Eastern High School. “Kids are dying in the schools to a point where it’s not even a lead news story anymore.”

After two days of meetings and debates, the students passed a School Safety Bill of Rights.

“How school safety policy should protect students, also how we should address mental health issues associated with gun violence,” Bangura-Williams says.

The effort comes just days after the arrest of 18-year-old Luis Cabrera, accused of making threats against students at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.

Investigators say Cabrera’s on-line posts said “I hate WJ,” and “Ha Ha, I’m going to shoot up the school.”

“Another kid with two automatic weapons threatening to kill some students at his school, that’s kind of crazy like,” Bangura-Williams says. “We don’t imagine these things happening until they do.”

“Kids should not feel like they hate their school and automatically think ‘oh, I want to shoot this school up,’” says Betty Luther, an Eastern High School senior. “Why turn to a gun, why do that?”

Authorities say it wasn’t just threats.

Police say they tracked down Cabrera, a former Johnson student, at a friend’s apartment in Towson, Maryland, outside Baltimore.

Officers arrested the 18-year-old, then recovered two rifles: an AR-15 and a .40-caliber long gun.

“We take these threats seriously,” says Captain Paul Starks, a Montgomery County Police spokesperson. “It’s beyond anything like a joke on social media.”

Now, these students, meeting to discuss gun violence, are dealing with a hard truth at the school door.

“We are kind of militarized,” Bangura-Williams says. “In the mornings, we go through security checks, our bags go through security checks almost like you would go through.”

The students and teachers at Sunday’s summit say the push is on for tougher gun laws.

“Background checks for guns, waiting periods, red flag laws,” Millner says.

Students say they are doing more than just talking the talk.

They are getting involved politically--- hoping state and federal government leaders are listening.

All this, as Cabrera, now in jail, faces his initial court hearing on Monday.

He faces one count of ‘threat of mass violence,’ and is being held without bond.

“The change I’m seeing--- from someone who was a student when Columbine happened--- to students who are in school now, is that they are prepared to fight,” Millner says. “To know their facts, and bring it to the people who have power, and say this has to change.”

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