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Natrona County High School students plan walkout to show solidarity with school shooting victims

A group of Natrona County High School students are planning a walkout next week to show solidarity with the victims of school shootings and not as a statement against guns or the Second Amendment, organizers said.

“Our walkout is planned to last 1,606 seconds to symbolize the 1,606 school shootings that have taken place in this country since Sandy Hook,” the organizers wrote in a letter to NCHS staff and administration.

The 1,606 figure seems to refer to the estimated total number of mass shootings since the December 2012 massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

The organizers will lead the walkout at 10 a.m. Wednesday, according to a flier distributed by student organizers, who refer to themselves as Casper Youth for Change. The event is set to occur three weeks after 17 people were gunned down in a high school in Parkland, Florida, by a former student carrying an AR-15 assault weapon.

In the aftermath of the shooting, student survivors have become vocal advocates for gun control and have ignited a national debate. Simultaneously, officials nationwide — including President Donald Trump — have discussed arming staff and banning firearm sales to certain groups.

Hunter Bullard, a senior at NCHS and one of the primary organizers, said the planning started in a group text message exchange. There are roughly 25 students in the organization, and Bullard expects at least 50 students to participate in the walkout.

The event is not scheduled as the same day as the nationwide high school walkout, sparked by the teenage survivors of the Parkland massacre and set for March 14. Bullard said that was intentional, to set the Casper action away from the more gun control-centered national protest.

“Our overall goal is to just show solidarity,” she said. “Different people in the movement have different feelings about what the actions should be. I think all of us are in agreement, we support the Second Amendment, we support the Constitution, but we feel that something needs to be done.”

Kayla Ostrem, another organizer and senior at the high school, said they weren’t advocating any policy changes.

“We’re simply saying, ‘We stand with you, and no kid should have to go to school in fear,’” added sophomore Tanner Ewalt.

It’s unclear if the students will face any punishment for walking out. Superintendent Steve Hopkins said Monday night that he wasn’t aware of the protest but that his first inclination isn’t to punish the students.

“We hope we don’t get punished for this, but we also understand why we would get punished because we are leaving class and taking away from learning time for kids who are leaving,” Ewalt said, adding that a potential punishment was “not at all” a deterrent.

The Star-Tribune made requests to interview Natrona County High School Principal Shannon Harris through a district spokeswoman. Harris was not made available.

Bullard said the group put out the letter to administrators and staff to make organizers’ intentions clear. She said there had been rumors that some administrators were frustrated and critical because they assumed it was an anti-gun march.

Ewalt said he feared it was only “a matter of time before a tragedy happens” in a Wyoming high school. He wanted to show lawmakers that students here were active and vocal.

In the wake of the Florida shooting, the debate about whether to arm school staff has erupted again. In Wyoming, several school districts are looking closely at whether to institute a policy allowing staff to carry firearms. On Monday night, several members of Natrona County school board expressed interest in the idea. Hopkins said he and district staff planned to look closer into the idea.

There have been several threats made to Wyoming schools since the Feb. 14 Florida attack, including at least two in the Natrona County School District.

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune 

Cokeville High School freshman Eli Linford cheers on the girls team Friday as they compete against St. Stephens in the girls Class 1A semifinals of the Wyoming State High School Basketball Championships at Casper College. The 1A and 2A championship games will be played Saturday at the Casper Events Center.

Casper City Councilwoman Amanda Huckabay resigns saying she plans to move to Utah

Casper City Councilwoman Amanda Huckabay resigned her office this week because of family and professional reasons, she said in an email to Council on Friday.

“Due to unforeseen circumstances with my previous employer and issues with my daughter being severely bullied, I have made the decision to relocate to St. George, Utah, with my fiancé,” states a copy of the email.

Huckabay says in the email that she has also lost passion for activist work because “the warrior energy I have embodied during my life seems to have disappeared and I am transitioning into a healing energy.”

Attempts to contact the former councilwoman Friday were unsuccessful.

City Council members received the email from Huckabay on Friday afternoon, confirmed Councilwoman Kenyne Humphrey.

Humphrey estimated it will be at least a month before a new council member is appointed. Council members will advertise the opening and then pick the new candidate themselves.

“I think the biggest challenge is that it takes a while for new council members to get up to speed, but that’s just the way the process works,” Humphrey said.

Vice Mayor Charlie Powell said he’s confident the Council will find a strong replacement.

“We’ve been through this before,” he explained. “Each time it’s been a challenge, but we’ve also been able to see the quality of the people who have stepped forward.”

Former Ward II Councilman Todd Murphy abruptly resigned almost a year ago, citing personal reasons. He was replaced by currently Councilman Dallas Laird.

Huckabay represented Ward 1 and was elected in part for her advocacy for sexual assault survivors. She was a member of the Wyoming Women Warriors, a local group that started last year to empower victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

The group partially formed as a result of anger regarding how local police were handling sexual assault cases. Sexual assault survivors-including Huckabay, who was then a private citizen- started appearing at City Council meetings more than a year ago to share concerns about how their cases were managed.

Among their criticisms: The prosecution process was too slow, obtaining updates was difficult and officers did not take their cases seriously enough.

Huckabay has met with the police department on multiple occasions to push for change since her election in November 2016.

“I just want to thank her for her voice and her efforts,” Warriors founder Aimee Kidd said Friday.

Newly appointed police chief Keith McPheeters told the Star-Tribune last month that the department is striving to improve victims’ services.

Huckabay’s experience with sexual assault led to a heated feud with Councilman Jesse Morgan last summer. During a City Council work session in August, Huckabay lashed out at Morgan when he stated he had heard from law enforcement officials that bar patrons in Casper tend to become overly intoxicated.

Morgan had learned this information while attending a community panel on sexual assault, which led Huckabay to conclude he was connecting assault with alcohol consumption. The councilman fiercely denied this assumption, but the feud escalated after Huckabay posted about the incident on social media.

The councilwoman later said she regretted her actions and explained that she had been emotionally triggered by her past experiences.

Laird said Friday that he admired the former councilwoman’s ”fearless” spirit and will miss working with her on the Council.

“This was a very difficult decision for me to leave the political scene in Wyoming, especially since I was recently solicited by the National Libertarian Party to run for State Legislature, which I also declined,” Huckabay said in her email. “I am proud of the work we have accomplished in our time together and I am saddened to leave.”

Casper police say officers who killed sword-wielding man acted legally, according to preliminary information

The Casper Police Department has found no indication that the two officers who shot and killed a sword-wielding man earlier this week acted outside of the law or department policy, the department announced Friday afternoon.

The two officers, Jonathan Schlager and Cody Meyers, are on leave as the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation examines the Sunday night shooting.

Douglas Oneyear, 36, was wielding a sword when two officers shot him shortly before midnight Sunday, according to police. He died at the scene.

“The family and friends of Mr. Oneyear, as well as the involved Officers and their families, have all been deeply impacted by this incident, as has the community as a whole,” the department said in a statement. “The Casper Police Department would ask the community to exercise compassion and understanding for our Officers and the family of Mr. Oneyear as we move forward as a community.”

A Friday afternoon news release issued by the department identified the officers by their last names, first initials and time with the agency. Chief Keith McPheeters cited the officers’ safety in declining to provide their complete first names. A department roster indicates the two officers named in this story are the only two matching the information provided by the department.

When asked to confirm whether the officers were those involved, McPheeters again declined to identify the officers in full but said “you did your homework,” to a Star-Tribune reporter.

McPheeters said he is “deeply committed to transparency,” and then said releasing only part of the officers’ names was consistent with societal expectations.

In the announcement, the department said an internal affairs investigation and incident review are not yet complete.

The Division of Criminal Investigation’s findings, meanwhile, will be passed on to the Natrona County District Attorney’s Office, which will determine whether charges are warranted.

If the district attorney’s office decides charges are not warranted, top prosecutor Mike Blonigen will release a letter explaining his findings, he said Monday.

At 11:36 p.m. Sunday, police officers responded to a call from the Loaf ‘N Jug on Centennial Court, where the clerk said a man “had come into the store wielding a sword and had threatened her and physically assaulted her,” the Casper Police Department said in a Monday statement. The clerk did not suffer injuries that required immediate medical care.

About three minutes after the call, police officers confronted a man with a sword near the intersection of East 15th Street and Trojan Drive, according to the statement. That area is about two-tenths of a mile from the gas station.

“During that contact, two Casper Department Officers fired their service weapons at the male subject,” the release said. “The officers subsequently rendered medical attention to the male subject, who succumbed to his injuries and died at the scene.”

Oneyear, who was alone at the time, was pronounced dead around 11:50 p.m. according to the coroner’s office.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune  

Casper Police Department patrol vehicles sit in a city lot on West A Street in downtown Casper.

House kills cut-heavy Senate education bill, setting stage for school funding fight in budget negotiations

Lawmakers in the Wyoming House killed a Senate bill that would’ve cut tens of millions from schools over the next three years, setting up a budget fight between the two chambers.

The bill — titled Senate File 117 — represented the Senate’s main attempt at solving the education funding crisis. Its death at the hands of the House Education Committee comes a year after House leaders refused to touch a similar Senate measure.

At one point educators said SF 117, sponsored by Cowley Republican Sen. Ray Peterson, would’ve cut as much as $150 million a year. But Peterson made a number of changes before the Senate passed the bill that trimmed down the cuts significantly.

Among other things, the now-dead Senate bill would have increased class size and tightened how schools calculate their enrollment — and thus determine their financial needs.

Educators had said the Senate measure was intended as a bargaining chip, a way to draw a cut-wary House to the table and negotiate school cuts. Earlier Friday, Peterson confirmed there was truth to that.

“Somewhat,” he told the Star-Tribune. “That’s what it was.”

Speaking Friday morning, before House lawmakers killed his bill, Peterson said he hoped the House would look at some of his proposals and consider them as part of a final education deal.

He added that he thought educators’ frustrated and worried response to the original version of the bill was “understandable” but a “bit of an overreaction.”

The House passed a bill with more modest cuts. It attempts to shift money to help fund schools into the future. Peterson predicted the two chambers would settle on education cuts between $20 million and $30 million per year.

But the death of the Senate’s bill doesn’t mean the fight is over. For one, the Senate will still consider the House bill and will have the opportunity to amend it. Any changes will prompt a group of lawmakers from each chamber to meet and negotiate, which is what happened at the very end of last year’s session.

The Senate has a backup plan beyond tinkering with the House measure. Lawmakers there effectively folded the language of SF 117 into their budget, which will force an eventual negotiation between the two.

It’s a nearly identical situation to last session. The House supported an omnibus bill that called for $36 million in annual school cuts, along with tapping savings and shifting revenue. The Senate, meanwhile, proposed a cut-heavy measure while setting a heavy backup cut in their budget. The House killed the Senate bill, the Senate heavily amended the House bill, and the two negotiated until the final hours of the session.