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The manager for Mike Coffman's campaign for re-election in the 6th Congressional District said the April 7 town halls were essentially political rallies. In an emailed statement on April 9, Tyler Sandberg also told Colorado Community Media the congressman, a Republican from Aurora, is dedicated to school safety.
"Mike Coffman was the first Member of Congress to hold a town hall after the tragedy in Parkland, FL," Sandberg wrote. "It received national attention from CNN, LA Times, AP, etc. Since then Mike has held two additional town halls with high school students in the district – at Rangeview High School and Colorado Early Colleges of Aurora. He has also been meeting with every single superintendent and school safety officer in the district to seek their expertise and opinions on solutions to school violence."
Shannon Hayes, 21, sat in the gymnasium at ThunderRidge High School in Highlands Ranch on April 7 as a moderator for a panel on gun violence. As questions continued, she couldn't help but think back to 2013 and the day she sat in her AP calculus class at Arapahoe High School, prepping for final exams.
Her class was interrupted when a student armed with a gun stormed the school and opened fire, killing a classmate before taking his own life.
When the first shot rang out, Hayes thought she'd heard someone drop a textbook in the hall, but then it became the unmistakable sound of repeated gunfire, she said.
“I don't remember going from sitting in my desk to hiding under my desk,” she said.
The shooting itself was brief but Hayes hid under her desk for roughly 30 minutes as her classroom went into lockdown. Beyond the door she could hear SWAT officers running through the halls, sometimes shouting “clear” over a fire alarm and PA system announcement telling them to stay sheltered.
“Everyone was kind of hiding under their desks,” she said. “I was definitely shaking.”
Waiting for the shooting to end, Hayes texted her mother the simple sentence: “I love you.”
Today Hayes is one of the student faces behind Never Again Colorado, the group that organized the March for Our Lives event on March 24 and flooded Denver's Civic Center Park. On April 7, they held a quickly organized follow up, “Town Hall for our Lives,” for Colorado's 6th Congressional District, which includes Highlands Ranch, Littleton, Centennial and Aurora, among other areas. A separate town hall for the 4th Congressional District — which includes Castle Rock, Lone Tree, Parker, Elbert County and much of the state's eastern plains — was scheduled earlier that day in Castle Rock.
At ThunderRidge's front entrance were volunteers handing out bumper stickers and buttons heralding the “Never Again” slogan and criticizing 6th District U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, for accepting contributions from the National Rifle Association.
Leading much of the night was Tay Anderson, the 19-year-old board president of Never Again Colorado. Anderson said the organization invited Coffman and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, to the event. Gardner's office declined the invitation by email, stating a scheduling conflict, and Coffman's office did not respond, Anderson said.
The organizers wished Coffman and Gardner had accepted the invitations, Anderson said.
“Just for our congressional representatives to hear us say, `We want to be safe in our schools,' ” Anderson said.
Levi Tillemann and Jason Crow, both Democrats running to unseat Coffman this November, attended to speak about their vision for gun regulations in America. Their platforms include bans on assault rifles, 10-day waiting periods when someone purchases firearms and stronger background checks.
In Coffman and Gardner's place were cardboard cutouts of each man.
Sandy Reavey, 63, of Denver, said she invited many of her friends to the event. Reavey came to support students behind the movement and to advocate for stricter gun regulations, she said.
“I have a grandson in Jr. High and my son was in high school when Columbine happened,” she said. “I don't think our legislators are doing enough to stop it.”
Reavey's friend Pam Culig, 71, of Aurora agreed, calling Coffman unresponsive to his constituents in Arapahoe County who support more gun control. Both Culig and Reavey want assault weapons banned, they said.
Tess Rosen, a 14-year-old eighth grader at Sky Vista Middle School in Aurora, sat front and center in the gymnasium during the event. It was one of her first times being politically active, she said, but her fear of gun violence and school shootings drove her to get involved.
“I don't want to have to feel afraid every time I walk into school,” she said. “I think I'm definitely anxious.”
Rosen said feeling unheard by legislators is “a great cause of frustration and anger,” but movements like March for Our Lives is helping.
“Our voices are really getting out there,” she said.
As Hayes moderated during the Town Hall for Our Lives event, she paused from asking questions to address the crowd. It took her a while to realize all of the ways the Arapahoe High School shooting affected her, she told them, but like Rosen, she felt the March for Our Lives movement was helping.
“For me, it's cathartic and it's healing,” Hayes told the crowd, “to be able to put action behind this issue.”
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