pc-022018-ne-gunrally

Parents and students rally in Marion Square Monday Feb. 19, to demand legislative change after the latest school shooting in Florida. Leroy Burnell/Staff

As news spread about a shooter at her former school in south Florida last week, 14-year-old Ava Gallo sent a text message to her mother. 

A few of her friends were rumored to still be inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland as a gunman roamed the halls. 

Ava and her mother spoke at a rally Monday night in Marion Square and recounted their chilling realization as Wednesday's mass shooting unfolded: If their family hadn't moved to Mount Pleasant two months ago, Ava would've been inside the building where 17 people were fatally shot and 14 others were wounded.

“These were people who were taken away because of someone who should not have had access to a high-powered weapon that should not be used by civilians,” an emotional Ava said to applause at the #NoMoreExcuses Rally for Change, an event that advocated for a legislative response to gun violence. "And I am angry that he had such easy access to that building.”

Ava, a Wando High School freshman, eventually learned that two of her friends were killed. One girl, Alyssa Alhadeff, was a soccer star who joined her for sleepovers. The other, Alaina Petty, sat next to Ava in geometry class and was a member of the school's JROTC program. Both were 14. 

"Had we not made the decision to move, she would’ve heard those shots. That’s something that would ring in her ears forever," her mother, Shannon Gallo, said after calling for stricter gun laws and safer schools. 

pc-022018-ne-gunrally-01.JPG

Shannon and Ava Gallo are applauded after speaking during a rally against gun violence at Marion Square in downtown Charleston on Monday following last week's deadly school shooting in Florida. Ava attended school in Parkland before recently moving to the Lowcountry. Matthew Fortner/Staff

Parents, students and teachers attended Monday's event that was hosted in part by the South Carolina chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Speakers demanded varying changes to gun control, such as banning "bump stocks" and military-style rifles, expanding background checks for gun sales, and refusing to vote for lawmakers who accept money from the National Rifle Association. 

Meanwhile, opponents of stricter gun control have argued that the conversation should center around addressing mental illness, not limiting access to firearms. President Donald Trump has criticized the FBI for failing to follow-up on a tip last month that the man now charged in the school shooting could be plotting an attack. 

Merrill Chapman, president of the Brady Campaign's state chapter, urged Monday's crowd of over 100 to continue to speak out until change is enacted. 

"They’re talking about arming teachers now. More guns on top of guns," Chapman said in reference to legislation proposed in several states in light of the school shooting. 

Members of the crowd shook their heads in response. A woman shouted: "They haven’t asked the teachers!"

Patrick Martin, a freshman English teacher at Wando High School, said educators such as himself "don't want to teach in militarized camps" and "don't want to carry guns." By now, lockdown procedures are well-rehearsed, but teachers cannot single-handedly stop a shooter, he said. 

"We cannot save your kids from errant gunfire," he said. 

Madeleine Albertson, 17, stepped up to the podium to speak and recognized classmates from James Island Charter High in the audience. Her foster mother helped organize the rally, and Albertson pitched in to make posters with sayings such as, "The smallest coffins are the heaviest."

The senior implored her peers to vote because "thoughts and prayers from politicians ... will not cut it anymore."

"I shouldn’t look at a classroom and plan where I’d have to run or what could be used as a weapon," she said. "Do not let one more child die. Keep our school safe. No more excuses."

Meghan Trezies, a parent and leader with the local advocacy group Arm-in-Arm, said members of her group plan to travel to Columbia on Tuesday morning to testify before the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children.

She said students have also begun expressing an interest in the nationwide March 14 student walkout organized by survivors of last week's massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. Starting at 10 a.m. that day, students around the country will walk out of class for 17 minutes — one minute for every life lost in the shooting.

"We can’t prevent every shooting, but we’re not doing the simplest things to prevent all the shootings that we possibly can," Trezies said.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Get the best of The Post and Courier, handpicked and delivered to your inbox every morning.


Paul Bowers contributed to this story. Reach Angie Jackson at 843-937-5705. Follow her on Twitter at @angiejackson23

Angie Jackson covers crime and breaking news for The Post and Courier. She previously covered the same beat for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive.com in Michigan. When she’s not reporting, Angie enjoys teaching yoga and exploring the outdoors.