Demonstrators release balloons in memory of the 17 victims of last year's school shooting in Parkland, Fla., during a rally against gun violence organized by Chattanooga Students Leading Changed in Miller Park on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Students, their families and supporters rallied to denounce gun violence just over one year after the Parkland shooting.

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Seo Yoon Yang, a sophomore at Signal Mountain Middle/High School, remembers where she was on Feb. 14, 2018.

She was in her Spanish class, then a student in South Florida at a school an hour north of Parkland, Florida.

Another student in the class received a text — there was an active shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

"I thought it was fake. I thought for sure it wouldn't be in Florida. I thought it couldn't happen so close to me," Yang said. "That day, my community took a blow. And the next day, chaotic halls turned silent and when a door slammed or a textbook fell, everyone jumped."

Last summer, Yang moved to Chattanooga, but she knew she wanted to find a way to honor the 17 victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

A year later, she was given the opportunity to do so, alongside local student activists and the group Chattanooga Students Leading Change.

The group of middle and high school students from across Chattanooga began meeting last year, soon after the shooting, as teenagers across the country followed the lead of Parkland survivors in expressing outrage over the tragedy.

On Saturday, they remembered the victims of the Parkland shooting and local incidents of gun violence and called the community to action at a rally at Miller Park.

"The topic of gun violence only seems to come up when there's a shooting, when people die, when lives are taken from gun violence," said Lauren Tolbert, one of the organizers of the rally and a member of Chattanooga Students Leading Change. "We want you to know that we are still here. Today, we are here to remember the students whose lives were taken."

Since the Parkland shooting, 1,200 children have been killed by gun violence, according to recent reporting by The Trace, Miami Herald, and McClatchy newspapers.

But since the shooting, Tolbert, a senior at Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences, said she and her peers feel they've been left out of the discussion of the issue.

"We've noticed there has been a lack of student voice in conversation about gun violence," she said.

Saturday's rally, from a memorial reading of the names of the victims in Parkland and local victims and a visual representation of all those have died, was completely student-led.

"This tragedy is just another example of senseless violence," said Julia Becker, a sophomore at Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts. "We must honor their memories with not just our words, but our actions."

Since last year's March for Our Lives, the local group has traveled to the state Capitol and Washington, D.C., to lobby lawmakers; held a vigil for victims of the deadly Waffle House shooting in Nashville; and partnered with other advocacy groups, including Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action and Moms for Social Justice.

The group invited attendees of the rally to join with the many organizations present to lobby lawmakers to enact "commonsense gun laws" and laws that could help restrict access to guns for those with a history of violence , while strengthening gun permit regulations.

"We are here at this rally to spread information in a very visual and personal way," said Isabel Harper, a junior at Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts and member of the group. "We know that school shootings are a system of the deadliest firearms and lackluster legislation. They are not the problem."

Becker echoed the need for action.

"We must do better," she said. "Chattanooga Students Leading Change was founded because this problem is a distinctly American one. We are tired of wondering every day if we will be next."

As the students and their supporters stood shoulder-to-shoulder, each holding a picture of one of the 17 victims and a balloon, Yang asked attendees to remember each of the students and think about people in their own lives.

"With the release of these 17 balloons, please remember the speech and debate kid, the cross country coach, the Star Wars lover, the captain of the swim team, the assistant football coach, the dancer, the wrestling coach, the chicken nugget lover the girl who wanted to be a doctor and the boy who always put others in front of himself," she said.

"It's easy to convince yourself that it wouldn't happen here. It won't happen to your friends and it won't happen to you," Yang added. "When I heard about Sandy Hook and the Las Vegas shooting, I thought that too. But I was wrong. One day it will be your friend's friends' friend, and then it will be your friend's friend, then it will be your friend, then it will be you."

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.