50ºF

More than 25,000 attend 'March for Our Lives' rally in Orlando

More than 800 events held internationally

ORLANDO, Fla. – More than 25,000 people showed up at Lake Eola Saturday for a sister rally in a series of nationwide marches that took place across the country following the school shooting last month in South Florida.

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 lives were claimed in the Feb. 14 attack, have spearheaded what's being called the "March for Our Lives" movement and Orlando, a city that knows tragedy too well, marched in support of the victims, survivors and their families.

During the rally in downtown Orlando, which began at 1 p.m., several political leaders and activists, including survivors from the Pulse nightclub attack, spoke to the crowd.

[PHOTOS: More than 25,000 attend Orlando 'March for Our Lives' rally]

"We have to get rid of the puppet Republican congressmen that are owned by the NRA. The kids are going to beat them. They are going to fire them and God bless them," Ken Wooden said.

Wooden is an 82-year-old U.S. Army veteran who told News 6 he was marching Saturday for the safety of all his grandchildren.

"I think its really important for the young people in the U.S. to have a voice, so I think this is a perfect opportunity for us," student Miriam Mami said.

Others took the stage to welcoming hundreds who came out to support those who want change.

"I am honored to stand with you today as we march for our lives and the next generation of leaders in our state and union," said Anna V. Eskamani, senior director of Planned Parenthood in Orlando.

Many delivered speeches that called for more gun control and school safety laws.

Keinon Carter, one of the survivors from the Pulse attack, spoke to a crowd in Orlando for the first time since he began wearing the title of "survivor" after the June 2016 mass shooting, which was carried out by a gunman wielding an assault rifle, much like the suspected gunman in the Parkland shooting, who was carrying an AR-15 rifle.

Carter, who was shot in the nightclub where 49 were killed and at least 50 others were injured, said he wants assault weapons off the streets altogether.

He told a story of how, after the Pulse shooting, he didn't feel safe in his Orlando home, so he went to a gun shop to look at weapons and couldn't believe how much weapons like the ones used in the attacks cost.

"I stepped into a gun store just because I felt unsafe in my home and to notice that I was shot by a gun that cost $700, losing 49 friends and being injured myself for $700," Carter said. "Is that what our life is worth?"

Carter said he doesn't believe anyone needs assault weapons to protect themselves and called them "guns of war."

"Something that can take that many lives in a matter of seconds should be off the streets," he said.

He also said he had recently seen a video where someone said that more shootings like Pulse and the one in Parkland would need to take place in order for lawmakers to be able to pass harsher gun laws.

"That's crazy! It needs to stop now," he yelled.

The crowd cheered in agreement.

Carter finished his speech by encouraging everyone who showed up to continue working together to push for change. He said he learned the impact a group could have after seeing the community band together in the days after Pulse.

"Learning from this last year and nine months, there's power in numbers," Carter said. "Let's stand. Let's march. Let's do what we gotta do to make our people feel safe."

[MORE: Marchers' price tags are meant to reflect what they say their lives are worth: $1.05 | Students rally in 'March for Our Lives' events in Washington, across US | Here's what the NRA had to say today about the March for Our Lives]

A student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas who was at school the day 17 of her classmates and teachers were killed also spoke during the Orlando rally.

She broke down how the tragedy unfolded from the time the shooter walked in and opened fire until she finally spoke to her loved ones that day, describing the fear she felt during what she said felt like an eternity.

"I did not reunite with both my parents until 6 o'clock that night. I did not hear from all my closest friends until 7 o’clock," she said. "Five hours of waiting."

She said she believes students shouldn't have to worry about being gunned down when they leave for school each morning.

"My 13-year-old little brother shouldn’t have to worry whether an active shooter is going to come on campus and kill him or his friends," she said. “This isn’t normal. We cannot accept that this is normal and that nothing can be done. No student should have to fear for their life when they go to school. No student should wonder, ‘Will I make it home safely today or is today the day I die?'”

The survivor said that's why she and her peers are working to make sure they see change, because she never wants a tragedy like Parkland to be able to happen again.

"As you can see, we students are no longer putting up with school shootings as a normal part of our society," she said. "That is not the type of society we should live in."

Lawmakers, including U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Val Demings, were also among speakers at the event.

The rally at Lake Eola was just one of more than 800 sister marches from California to Japan, including the main event, which began at noon in Washington, D.C. Collectively, "March for Our Lives" could become one of the largest marches in history.


About the Authors: