THOMAS CO., GA (WALB) - Wednesday morning at Thomas County Central High School, the class change bell was set to ring around 10 a.m. but instead of changing classes many students walked out from their classrooms into the common area outside.
"We're having a moment of silence for the students who lost their lives in the Florida school shooting," said Taylor Smith, Junior at TCCHS.
This is part of a nationwide gun violence protest planned by students in response to last month's massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
"It was a student-led decision, there was no organization (with school staff) as far as we knew ahead of time. We were prepared for students to walk out but they did so very respectfully," said TCCHS Principal Trista Jones.
An estimated 200 students at TCCHS participated Wednesday morning.
"A lot of people showed up, a lot more than I thought because I thought everyone would be scared. Everyone came because they feel really strong about it," said Smith.
Thomas County joined nearly 3,000 other protests nationwide.
"It's really serious because we go to school every day and it just really shows the danger you can be placed in when you're away from home," said Smith.
These students, along with many others are calling on elected officials to change the gun laws.
"I think we need stricter gun laws to prevent things like that from happening," said sophomore Bre Woods.
The Women's March twitter page mentioned the coordinated walkouts on Tuesday.
The group urged students to leave class at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim in the Florida shooting.
"The fact that the kids were aware enough to know it's happening and keep up with it and for them to be able to articulate why they were outside was important for me. So, as I walked through the crowd, I would say, 'Do you know why you're here?' They were all able to tell me. Some of them had different viewpoints but the common mission of remembering the students, they felt was very important," explained Jones.
Students said they know not everyone who wanted to, attended. But they encourage students to continue with the cause.
"I just hope more awareness is spread, that even though some people may be shy but they have their beliefs they aren't very vocal about, they are able to create an impact somehow," said TCCHS sophomore Megan Curry.
Ahead of the event, many South Georgia school districts released statements about the planned protests.
Students at Thomas County were thankful to have supportive administrators.
"I am very glad our school allowed us to do this because I know most schools probably wouldn't. I think it's a great thing being that we can come out here and use our rights as the First Amendment to express how we feel about the situation," said Woods.
"I appreciate the fact that they asked for permission to do things, 'Is it OK that we're out here? Is it OK if we have a moment of silence? 'Is it okay that we do things?' I had to remind them that this is a student-led situation, we were really just there to make sure everyone stayed safe," Jones explained.
Some schools in South Georgia chose not to participate but observed a 17-second moment of silence for the victims inside classrooms Wednesday morning followed by short discussions on school safety issues.
Jones said she was proud of the respect her students at TCCHS showed as they held their walkout.
"When it was time to go back to class they all went back to class. Some of them stayed a little longer and asked for passes to go to class which I think is a very respectful way to handle a situation like that. I know that some schools were considering disciplinary action and things like that. There was a lot of discussion about that with schools in this area. I did not think that it was worthy of discipline. I think it was peaceful, respectful and I am really proud of them," said Jones.