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Students Respond to Tragic Bellaire High School Shooting

Pooja Salhotra
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Students

Bellaire High School students made posters in response to the on-campus shooting. (Photo: Pooja Salhotra) 

Less than 24 hours after a shooting devastated Bellaire High School’s campus, students congregated in Evelyn’s Park to grieve, remember and demand change. 

At approximately 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 14, a Bellaire High School senior was shot in the chest on campus. The victim, identified as Cesar Cortes, was pronounced dead soon after. On Tuesday evening, police arrested the suspected shooter, who now faces charges of manslaughter. 

In light of the tragedy, classes at Bellaire High School were suspended on Wednesday. Starting at 11 a.m., students - organized by Bellaire senior Grace Bandercan - met in Evelyn’s Park to stand in solidarity. 

Students comfort one another

Students comforted one another as they reflected on the tragic loss of Cesar Cortes. (Photo: Pooja Salhotra) 

The scene at the park was simultaneously solemn and impassioned. Wearing school sweatshirts and gym shorts, students sat at picnic tables, some with their heads down, comforting one another and grappling with the loss of their classmate. Many students were frustrated, blaming faulty security measures on campus for allowing a gun on campus. Other students made posters with words like “Remember Cesar” and “#JusticeForCesarCortes.” 

“[Cesar and I] were going to go to the army together,” said Saul Alejandro, a member of Bellaire’s JROTC who was close friends with Cesar. “Cesar was very kind, always wanting to help people. He always pushed me in my training, and I helped him in class. He was just a good kid.” 

Students who knew Cesar consistently described him as a committed member of JROTC and someone with a kind and reserved demeanor. Students were struggling to understand why Cesar was singled out. A motive for the shooting has not been identified. 

Cesar Cortes poster

Cesar Cortes is remembered as a dedicated member of Bellaire’s JROTC. (Photo: Pooja Salhotra) 

“He was always reserved; he never wanted to cause any trouble,” said Viviana De La Torre, also a member of JROTC. “Why would the shooter go after him? All we want is an answer to why this would happen to someone so sweet and so reserved.” 

A student-organized walk-out will take place on Friday at 1 p.m., before the scheduled 1:30 p.m. dismissal. The purpose of the demonstration is both to remember Cesar and to shed light on the school’s broader security issues, students said. 

Senior Tessa Valente, who plans to attend the walk-out, said there were at least three instances where a gun was found on campus last semester. In one case, the gun went off during class. She, along with many classmates, are demanding that the school take action to ensure school safety. 

“There have been guns on Bellaire’s campus before, but nothing has been done,” Tessa said. “Something needs to change. We shouldn’t be saying goodbye to people so soon.” 

Posters

Bellaire High School students made these posters to remember Cesar Cortes, who was killed in a shooting on campus on Tuesday. (Photo: Pooja Salhotra) 

“It was a ticking time bomb,” Grace added. “It’s really frustrating for us because we have been repeating that there is a problem, but nothing has changed.” 

Students who were on campus during the shooting recall a chaotic atmosphere filled with confusion and fear. 

Madelyn Lewis was in dance class when the shooting took place. She remembers an administrator blowing a whistle and telling everyone to get out. Though she did not know what was happening, her first suspicion was a shooting. 

Poster

Posters like this one were all over Evelyn’s Park on Wednesday, when Bellaire High School students gathered in the wake of a school shooting. (Photo: Pooja Salhotra)

“The fact that this was my first thought just says so much about what’s normal in this country and normal in high schools.” She added that although a shooting was not unexpected, the loss of a dear student will continue to impact the community. 

“Students are very angry that something like this happened, especially to someone we hold very dear,” Saul said. “These things shouldn’t happen. It’s not normal. We shouldn’t be dealing with guns at schools.” 

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