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To My High School in Mourning

Signs from a recent student protest lay near the entrance of Denver’s East High School.
Signs from a recent student protest lay near the entrance of Denver’s East High School. By Courtesy of Katie A. Hellrung
By Matthew E. Nekritz, Crimson Opinion Writer
Matthew E. Nekritz ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Cabot House and a graduate of East High School.​​​​​​​

Last Wednesday at around noon, my mom texted me.

“Are you in class?”

“No, why?”

Immediately, my phone rang.

My mind sifted through the countless snippets of bad news I could possibly hear when I picked up the phone call. I still wasn’t ready.

“There’s been a shooting at East.”

My heart sank. It wasn’t a hoax this time. Not a “swatting” call. Not a kid with a BB gun. The unthinkable had happened in my former high school — a place that I still see as home. It happened to a community still mourning the death of a classmate, Luis Garcia, who was shot just a block away from school last month.

After Luis Garcia’s death, Denver’s East High School community created a memorial for him at the “E.”
After Luis Garcia’s death, Denver’s East High School community created a memorial for him at the “E.” By Courtesy of Oden R. Davison

I scrambled to text my closest friends. For the first time in years, old group chats resurfaced. Within hours, “East High School” was a top 10 trending topic on Twitter in the United States.

According to officials, a student enlisted in a personalized “safety plan” for daily pat-downs had pulled a gun and shot two deans. The presence of paramedics at the school for an unrelated medical emergency may have saved a dean’s life. Ultimately, the shooting ended with one death — the shooter — whom law enforcement says died by apparent suicide far away from school.

At this point, it feels like there’s only so much one can say about this epidemic plaguing our country. We know the statistics. We know that firearms are the leading cause of death for American children and teens. A recent Crimson staff editorial aptly wrote that “We are the Generation of Mass Shootings.”

So, instead, I’ll direct this to East High School students, current and former — to my peers. And in that vein, to all students who have feared for their lives within the confines of their school.

The power and spirit that you hold in the heart of Denver is indomitable.

I remember marching down Colfax Avenue to the state Capitol with hundreds of classmates in March of 2018 to demand more gun control after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. I remember when our legislators met us at the steps and listened and I remember our teachers cheering us on. I have never felt prouder to be an East Angel than at that moment.

Last month, when Luis was shot, you swiftly came together and fundraised more than $200,000 for his family. You wielded your power with other schools by walking out of class and to the Capitol, filling the chambers with your presence and your voices, calling for change. You lobbied. You made the news. You demanded more from leaders that have failed us for far too long.

And last Friday, the day after Dean Sinclair and Dean Mason were shot, after you once again hid in classrooms, texted loved ones, and were forced to fear for your life, you marched right back, like East Angels do. I would expect no less.

East High School students protest at the Colorado Capitol on March 3, two days after the death of their classmate, Luis. Luis was shot while sitting in his car outside of East in February.
East High School students protest at the Colorado Capitol on March 3, two days after the death of their classmate, Luis. Luis was shot while sitting in his car outside of East in February. By Courtesy of Oden R. Davison

This past week, news of our school graced the New York Times. CNN and Fox News picked up the story, too. People who have never stepped foot in Denver, let alone walked the halls of East, will read the news, judge, generalize, and form every opinion imaginable about our school. Don’t listen to them.

Media and politicians will take these recent tragedies and frame them to fit their narrative. “This is why we need more gun control.” “This is a mental health issue, not a gun issue.” “This wouldn’t have happened if teachers were armed.” “There should have been police in the school.” “This is why you should vote for me for Denver mayor.”

Don’t let the voices of the adults, God forbid the politicians and pundits, drown yours out.

Keep organizing. Be a pain in the ass at the Capitol. Attend school board meetings. Speak at them. Write about what you want to see change within the walls of our high school, because nobody knows it better than you do. Build a culture that encourages the next students after you to do the same.

But please, please, allow yourselves time and space to mourn. Care for each other, for your teachers, and for your administrators. Let the warmth of the community wrap its arms around you in love, support, and solidarity. It will only make you stronger.

In four years or less, high school will be but a patchwork of memories for all of you. It is now for me. From spirited pep rallies, to meeting at the “E” before lunch, to marching down Colfax Avenue, these experiences shaped who I am today.

I can’t even begin to imagine how the last few months have shaped you. Whatever you choose to do next in your life, I urge you: Remember the East Angel spirit. Bring it with you and spread it to the communities within which you find yourselves. Don’t stop wielding your voice and your power, and don’t stop caring for each other.

We are Angels forever.

Dedicated to Luis Garcia, Eric Sinclair, and Jerald Mason.

Matthew E. Nekritz ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Cabot House and a graduate of East High School.

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