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She died in Florida, but she could change school safety in Cincinnati

Posted at 12:21 AM, Mar 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-21 00:26:34-04

CINCINNATI -- On February 17, 2017, 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg grins for the camera, all brown eyes and white tennis shoes, posing against a multicolored mural with one skinny leg slightly bent. Her long, dark hair is parted in the middle; the silver gleam of her braces supplements her smile. She is coltish and "compassionate," according to her aunt. She wants to graduate from school to become a therapist and, eventually, a mother.

On the same day a year later, Guttenberg is three days dead. She and 16 of her classmates at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School died on Valentine's Day when, according to police, a disgruntled former student walked into the school and opened fire with an automatic rifle. 

And on March 20, 2018, her cousin, Matthew Youkilis, can't stop thinking about her.

"That is what I do a large portion of every day," he said Tuesday night to a crowd at City Hall. Hours earlier, two more students were shot at a different high school -- this one in Maryland. "It pains me to think that Jaime will never see snow again."

Youkilis, a junior at Walnut Hills High School, was one of many students who offered their opinions at an open mic night addressing the topic of gun violence in schools. Local education and government officials also attended the event, which was hosted by City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.

"We, as the students who have gathered here, are not just the future of this country," Youkilis said. "We are the present. It is therefore our right and our responsibility to stand up in Jaime's memory and the memory of all those who died for a safer present and for a safer future."

Every speaker agreed that night that schools needed to be safer from gun violence -- the applause that greeted Youkilis' speech was proof of that -- but opinions were split on how that safety should be achieved.

Kevin Bandy, a Cincinnatian who graduated from Stoneman Douglas in 2009, said he and thousands of other alumni want Congress to raise the minimum legal age of gun purchase to 21, implement more extensive background checks and create a nationwide database that would prevent people with violent pasts from buying guns.

"We don't want to see this ever again," he said.

A student from Northern Kentucky University said he felt focusing on guns was treating a symptom, not the root causes of violence.

The Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education planned Wednesday to vote on renewing a commitment to school safety, according to president Mike Moroski, although the specifics of that commitment had not been publicized by Tuesday night.

Students across the country responded en masse to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting with protests, Twitter campaigns and appearances on national news outlets

Legislators and large retail chains responded likewise, with Florida enacting stricter gun control laws and many stores either dispensing with gun sales or raising the minimum required age of purchasers.

On a local level, some districts have taken a different approach. All Boone County public schools now count an armed deputy as part of their educational staff, and Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones has offered a firearm training class specifically for educators.