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‘We absolutely have the power to change things,’ says CVPA school shooting survivor

April Shepard, left, and Bryanna Love, right
Emily Woodbury
April Shepard, left, and Bryanna Love both refer to Central Visual and Performing Arts High School as a second home. “It was a rock I could lean on,” Love said. “I knew that no matter what, I had friends, teachers, counselors and everything else that could help me and guide me.”

It’s been nearly five months since the deadly shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, but for student Bryanna Love, not a day goes by without a reminder of what happened that day.

“I fear for my life every time I walk out of my door now,” Love said. “I still jump whenever I hear a noise that sounds even vaguely like what I heard in the classroom that day. I can’t put myself in certain situations anymore because I know it will make me have a panic attack and fear for my life.”

The 17-year-old senior, along with several dozen of their peers, spoke before the Missouri legislature in February to advocate for gun control measures they believe would prevent future tragedies.

“The very second the shock wore off, I was like, ‘I have to do something,’” Love said. “I can … appeal to people and show these lawmakers our faces and let them see the people who are really affected by [gun violence].”

In addition to approving a ban on assault weapons, Love said they want to see lawmakers take action on a red flag law, which would allow individuals to petition a judge for the temporary removal of firearms from a person who appears to be a risk to themselves or others.

But the chance to meet with lawmakers in February became a mixed experience for the students. While the delegation was grateful to get its message out to elected officials and through media coverage, the experience of trying to appeal directly to certain lawmakers was disheartening, Love told St. Louis on the Air.

“It was almost cartoonish — the level of just how far they were willing to go to not acknowledge our presence,” Love said.

It was 16-year-old April Shepard’s first time visiting the state Capitol. Shepard said it was a frustrating experience.

“The Republicans at the Capitol showed blatant disrespect by not even attempting to talk to any of us. They shied away, they hid from us. … It was disrespectful,” they said, adding that “this isn't a Democrat-Republican thing; this is a ‘people are dying and this needs to be changed’ thing.”

“When I'm upset I just look at the art [sent] from a bunch of other schools. They told us how we're strong, how they support us. It's just something comforting to look at,” April Shepard said. “It’s the little things that count.
Emily Woodbury
“When I'm upset I just look at the art [sent] from a bunch of other schools. They told us how we're strong, how they support us," April Shepard said. "It’s the little things that count."

Despite the frustrations, Love said they are grateful that CVPA has prepared them to advocate for themselves.

“I'm super grateful … that I was able to put into words the feelings and thoughts and hopes of my peers and of people around the country,” they said. “The majority of people are good people and don't want to see this continue happening — and absolutely agree with whatever measures that need to be taken to prevent this from happening.”

Love said they still believe that change is possible.

“It does begin with ordinary people. You do have the power to do something, because if I can, I know for sure there are a million people way more qualified and eloquent than I am, that can say the things that I've advocated for and more,” they said. “We absolutely do have the power to change things.”

Love and Shepard joined St. Louis on the Air to talk about their experience at the capitol, what it was like to resume classes and what they feel is necessary for healing to continue. Hear their reflections in this episode of St. Louis on the Air. Find it on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

CVPA students advocate for changes to Missouri gun laws

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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