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Special Report: Michiana's role in 'March for Our Lives'

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Students led the charge on a national call to action.

“They help create a movement and I’m hoping we can come up with some bipartisan sensible ideas,” said Congressman Fred Upton.

Michiana voices were front and center as hundreds rallied at home.

“We’re coming together to do this and just making it be a bigger voice and a more powerful voice,” said Charissa Warne, a resident from South Bend who traveled to the D.C. march.

And quite a few joined thousands of fired up students, as they marched outside the Capitol Saturday afternoon, calling for something to be done just weeks after two deadly high school shootings.

Michiana students take Washington

20 students left the hallways of John Adams High School in South Bend to take to the streets of the National Mall in Washington.

“We want to change things and we really think that enough is enough,” said Rebekah Amaya, a senior at Adams.

They took off Friday evening determined to be part of a growing movement nearly a 10-hour drive away.

“There are people from even farther than us, so it’s really powerful that people from all over really made the trek because it means so much to all of us,” said Kaity Radde, a senior at Adams.

They’re no strangers to social movements.

They recently rallied in support of DACA students, but this time they say they’re fighting for their lives.

“Our safety is primary in our school, that is all we want,” said Sydney Evans, a junior at Adams. “Especially after having threats at our school, it’s very important that our students feel safe.”

That concern comes after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida last month.

These same teens organized a walkout for their student body in solidarity with schools all across the country.

And although just a few of them showed up in D.C. for the ‘March for Our Lives’ rally, they believe they’re setting a good example for the hundreds at their school waiting for them to return home.

“We really hope this inspires everyone at school to go out and vote,” said Daniel Shemesh, a senior at Adams. “All the seniors here can vote in this next election.”

These students calling for change is something that is echoing through the halls of Congress in a way that stands out.

Congressional working group looks for solutions

Congressman Fred Upton has worked here in Washington for over 30 years. But when ABC 57 News spoke with him on Thursday about the ongoing response to the Parkland shooting, he implied that this time seems different.

He says he’s trying to do his part in making real change.

“Together, we’re trying to get a bipartisan consensus where we can actually move the ball forward,” Upton said.

He’s right in the middle of the gun control debate.

“Kids can’t learn when they’re not safe. We need to make sure that we take those precautions so that when that youngster, that young boy or girl, goes into that school, that they know that they are going to be safe and they’re there to learn,” he said.

Upton has been named co-chair of a bipartisan working group that is responding to the shooting in Parkland.

He has personally co-sponsored four different bills in recent weeks focusing on keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, enhancing the background check system, stopping school violence by implementing early intervention and prevention programs, and offering schools access to tools like panic buttons in classrooms.

Several of the bills have already passed in the House.

ABC 57 News also asked Upton if he supports banning assault weapons.

“I did,” he said. “You know, I voted for one. It expired a number of years ago. A lot of loopholes in that issue because how is it that one can define it? We found that manufacturers shortened the stock, did a whole number of different things. So it’s very difficult to try and define exactly what an assault weapon is.”

He says the nationwide outcry following the Parkland shooting is something he and his fellow lawmakers are taking note of.

“And I say to the students, not only the ones that marched out, I met with a number of Parkland kids a couple of weeks ago; I met with Columbine kids, Sandy Hook kids.  Good for them. It’s time for a wakeup call. And this is – as one that goes to a school literally every week all my years in the Congress, kids have a lot of good ideas.”

 Upton also supports banning bump stocks, which were used in last fall’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.

The Justice Department recently moved to ban the mechanism.

And Upton is using his position as co-chair of this working group to fight for a ‘Red Flag’ bill that is similar to what Indiana has done for several years, in terms of getting people with mental health problems help early on so violent tragedies can be prevented.

He spent Saturday back home in Michiana marching with students in his hometown of St. Joseph, Michigan.

Politicians react to nationwide marches

Quite a few other elected leaders from our area missed the rally in D.C. as they were back in their respective districts for the weekend.

But they also showed support for students participating in these marches.

Jackie Walorski, a U.S. representative for Indiana’s second congressional district, recently voted ‘yes’ on a budget that included the STOP school violence act.

She sent ABC 57 News a statement saying in part:

"Young Hoosiers are the future of our country, and I applaud their civic engagement on these important issues. Schools should be safe places where students can learn, grow, and prepare for bright futures.”

Senator Joe Donnelly also backed the student-led movement, saying in part in a statement:

"It's encouraging to see so many Hoosiers and Americans making their voices heard. I believe that we need to take action to reduce gun violence and make sure our schools are safe places for students and teachers alike.”

A representative from Senator Todd Young’s camp weighed in as well, saying in a statement:

“Senator Young respects that Hoosiers have strong and diverse feelings on how to prevent gun violence while upholding the 2nd amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.”

Many of those leaders opted to take some action because many of their constituents feel, when it comes to mass shootings, thoughts and prayers aren’t enough anymore.

March-goers lean on faith

Michiana also had a faith-based presence in Washington for the march and events surrounding it.

A group of 20 churchgoers from three different congregations in the South Bend area drove in on Friday and participated in a prayer vigil before the main event.

“I wanted to make this trip because I personally have had threats in my school and I feel like there should be a change and students shouldn’t have to go to school worried if they’re going to come home alive to their parents and friends,” said Marie Swain, a churchgoer and freshman student at Adams.

Swain walked into Washington’s National Cathedral on Friday with a group representing Michiana, at a service representing a desire for change.

Close to 2,000 people of faith came together in preparation for Saturday’s rally.

“We want to be praying,” said Warne. “We want to act. And we want to see change happen. We don’t just want to stop it with thoughts and prayers. We want to put something behind that as well.”

Candles were lit at the vigil, led by five participants that included a member of Michiana’s group.

“For someone from our community, even though we’re hours and hours away, someone came here and gets to represent our community,” Swain said.

And the community continued to be represented on Saturday along Pennsylvania Avenue.

“One of the main messages is that students have a voice and that you should do something,” Swain said. “Because this has gone far too long without any action being done and I think it’s time that something needs to be done.”

Friday’s prayer vigil featured the parents of Carmen Schentrup, one of the students killed in the Parkland school shooting.

Both Swain and Warne said their faith was a big reason they decided to make the trip to Washington for this cause.

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