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Tampa Bay Lawmakers Questioned About Gun Reform At 'Town Hall For Our Lives'

Apr 8, 2018

Susana Matta Valdivieso was hiding in a dark classroom when a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

She could hear the shooting in the building across from hers and classmates were getting nervous when their friends at the school weren't returning their calls.

"We all started freaking out but we couldn't do anything. And we had to stay in the classroom for like two or three hours," she said.

Valdivieso lived in Tampa after immigrating from Colombia. She returned on Saturday to confront local lawmakers at the "Town Hall For Our Lives."

"What will you as community leaders do aside from just verbally stating your support?" she asked.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg and Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren were among those that attended the town hall. Tampa Bay area students and residents questioned them about their support for gun reform, mental health programs and school funding.

Student organizers presented lawmakers with a list of priorities that included a ban on assault rifles, universal background checks and funding for gun violence research.

Rouson and Castor said they would support the priorities, but Rouson added that it was important to reach out to lawmakers who refused to show up to the event.

"We made Tallahassee difficult to get to on purpose," he said. "So challenge your representative: call, email, write. You guys have got to vote."

Parisa Akbarpour is a senior at Sickles High School and a lead organizer of the town hall. She said she hoped the event served as a way to keep the conversation on gun violence prevention going. She also hoped to keep students involved in politics.

"We said 'It's not over' after the march and it's not over after this," she said. "We have to keep up with our lawmakers and our community leaders make make sure they are sticking to what they say.

The Tampa town hall was one of many being held across the country. More than 100 people attended.