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SALT LAKE CITY — Mary Jane Vasey Payne fears the worst every time she hears an unusual or loud noise in the hallways of East High School.
"You don't have to worry every time you hear a loud noise in the halls that that's a gunshot," said Payne, a freshman at East High School. "I do, because I go to an American public school."
Hundreds of other East High students joined Payne in a walkout Friday in protest of gun violence, an issue that is seemingly never-ending, with the latest chapter in a book riddled with tragedy occurring Tuesday when 18-year-old Salvador Ramos barricaded himself in a classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and shot and killed 19 students and two teachers.
This issue hits home for East High, as one of its students was taken into custody in December after investigators said he brought a gun and ammunition to the school.
Speaking to a crowd of students gathered in front of East High Friday, Payne, who organized the walkout, said she remembers her mother trying to comfort her after the 2018 Parkland High School shooting, where Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people during a rampage at his former school.
"She told me that it was a rare thing, that it didn't happen often, but we both knew that that was a white lie," Payne said.
The goal of Friday's walkout, she said, was to "pray for the dead and fight for the living," while also advocating for accountability and better gun control laws.
"We can't keep living in a world where it's normal for, you know, 21 people to die on a Tuesday," she said.
Although most of the students at the walkout are unable to vote, they still agree that their voices matter and should be heard — especially when it comes to issues that impact their everyday lives as students.
"Walkouts are such an impactful thing ... because it is the future gathering together in their community," said Lucy Law, a freshman at East High. "The fact that we can gather together to stand for what we believe in, as a community, at our school, is what I love about walkouts and what I think is so powerful about it."
As far as what kind of gun reform they would like to see?
"I would prefer that an 18-year-old could not go out and buy guns, and buy two guns for his 18th birthday and go shoot up an elementary school. That's what I would prefer," Payne said.
"As the people who are going to schools, we are the closest ones to these situations so we are the most important voices."