DENVER – East High School students walked out of class Friday morning and marched to the Colorado State Capitol to demand an end to gun violence following the shooting death of one of their classmates.
Luis Garcia, 16, was shot while inside a parked car near the school on the afternoon of Feb. 13. He was taken to the hospital with a "very poor prognosis" and died Wednesday at Denver Health after a 17-day fight for his life.
Luis was described as a passionate soccer player, who always worked hard and made others laugh. His teammates have been raising money for his family through a GoFundMe, and have been wearing wristbands with his jersey number to honor him.
Holding signs with messages like "11 #Luis Strong," "School
is was my safe place," "Our blood, your hands" and "Am I next?," hundreds of students wearing red — some wearing jerseys with Luis' number — walked out shortly after 8 a.m. following a few words from speakers and a moment of silence to remember their classmate.
"The scariest thing in school should be my grades," a student who did not wished to be identified for this story told Denver7 as she marched along 16th Street toward the State Capitol. Instead, the scariest thing in school, the student said, was "kids getting shot outside of my school or getting raided. It's not very fun."
At the Capitol, students were joined by volunteers from two gun control organizations – Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action – which gathered there for what they called an Advocacy Day.
East HS students to our state leaders at the capitol: “no more silence, end gun violence” pic.twitter.com/fp8fB7IrR4— Rob Harris (@robharristv) March 3, 2023
"Every day when we showed up to practice — the whole team — Luis was always there. He was always playing on the field before everybody else got there and when practice would end, he would always be the last guy there," said one of his teammates. "He was the most diligent, hard-working guy on the team."
Following the rally, the hundreds of students who showed up — including some from the Denver Center for International Studies who were there in solidarity — were invited to speak to lawmakers inside the Capitol. Many students also took seats in the Senate gallery to make their presence visible to legislators.
Entire Senate gallery is now full with students to show their presence pic.twitter.com/DM59OXIOXw— Rob Harris (@robharristv) March 3, 2023
"These are the people that can change it, and we're trying to voice our opinions," said East High School junior Grant Elliott. "We want to let them know it affects us, and it's very important to us."
Just like the lawmakers before them, each of the students who spoke with Denver7 had differing answers for the policies they wanted to see implemented. Many said they marched to the capitol specifically to push for passage of the gun control measures being considered currently; others said they wanted to see stronger security on campus.
All, though, were on the same page of keeping Luis Garcia's memory alive by pushing for a safer school and safer community.
"It's all for him," junior Ryan Hammer said. "I know he's looking down and seeing everything we're doing for him. Everyone's here for him, so it was really good to see."
Last week, a group of East High Schools students went to Denver City Council and called on city leaders to act on school safety and gun violence. Specifically, the students are calling for enhanced cameras and security measures, school resource officers, and limited access to campus during school hours to start.
"I'm hoping that we can really make a change and the legislators will listen to us and make a change," said one of Luis' teammates. "This isn't something that students should be worrying about at all."
Denver7 reporters Veronica Acosta and Rob Harris contributed to this report.