Battle Creek

After senior's death, Battle Creek Central students seek to S.A.V.E. peers from gun violence

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.

The flowers, sympathy cards, and messages of support in the wake of Jack Snyder’s death were important and necessary for his family and his classmates at Battle Creek Central High School.
As they continue to grieve and wrap their heads around Snyder’s passing in February, some of his classmates are seeking to establish a more permanent way to honor their friend. During a rally on May 5 about 100 students, teachers, and community members held signs they had made and marched through downtown Battle Creek to First Congregational Church where speakers, including Snyder’s aunt and BCCHS students, discussed the need to stop the ongoing gun violence that is literally killing the futures of young people.
Jessica Perez-Patino, 18 and a senior at BCCHS, says she was a “little bit” reluctant when her friend, Marshall Murdick, 17, a senior classmate, asked her to speak during the rally. That hesitancy, she says, stems from the reputation BCCHS has as a school populated by low-income students.
Jessica Perez-Patino, a classmate of Jack Snyder's, speaks during an ant-gun violence rally at First Congregational church in downtown Battle Creek.“When it comes down to other schools we get a bad rap because we’re seen as the low-income kids. I was a little reluctant to speak because I didn’t want to make the whole school look bad,” Perez-Patino says. “But I was really close to Jack. I’ve known him since Kindergarten and was going to go to Grand Valley State University with him and I knew I had to do it.”
She says she put her fear aside about the possibility of pushback from those who may have seen the rally as an attempt to take their guns away, to honor her friend’s memory and show her support for an in-school club Marshall is creating with help from other students. The SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere) Promise Club at BCCHS is modeled after similar clubs in schools throughout the United States as a youth leadership initiative of the Sandy Hook Promise.
“The big focus is really just on building community and relationship with classmates,” says Marshall, 17 and a senior at BCCHS who will be attending GVSU in the Fall. “When it comes to gun violence and violence in general, there are still going to be people out there who want to hurt others. If we start speaking for each other and build community, it may lessen someone’s intent to harm others because they won’t feel so isolated. We want to make sure our classmates are O.K. and at least have one friend out there so they will do better in life.”
Marshall Murdick, a senior at Battle Creek Central High School, was an organizer of an anti-gun violence march and rally in downtown Battle Creek.In four out of five school shootings, the attacker either told someone or shared his or her plans on social media prior to the shooting and 70 percent of those who commit suicide have made their intentions known ahead of time, Marshall says.
“If it’s in your power, don’t isolate people,” he says. “We want to be there and support one another.”
Discussions about the creation of a SAVE Promise Club at BCCHS followed Snyder’s death. Marshall says 10 of his fellow seniors expressed interest in getting the organization started.
“A lot of us know each other and were impacted by what happened with Jack. We said, ‘We want to get this started but we’re graduating and leaving.’ We’ve been meeting with an advisor and talking with other people about the club and putting together material and information and doing the research and setting the framework so others can come in and take it on. We wanted to be the class that gets it done.”
Scenes from the anti-gun violence march in downtown Battle Creek.Marshall and Perez-Patino say that what happened to their friend Jack put into perspective how close tragedies like this can be and the number of people nationwide that are affected by gun violence in what is fast-becoming a daily occurrence. The dramatic increase in gun violence-related injuries and deaths has made it a public health crisis.
“As one person, there’s not a lot you can do, but having a community will effect change,” Marshall says.  “We also want to focus on mental health. Someone could be hurting and may deal with that hurt by lashing out and harming someone else. We want to create a safe space led by and made for students so that they realize that there are always people out there who will give you their hand and help you. Hopefully, this will lead to some change.”
If efforts like this can save one life, Battle Creek Police Officer Deaudre Perry, a Liaison Officer at BCCHS, says it will all be worth it.
“I’ve been doing this job for a long time and I have seen way too many deaths from gun violence,” Perry said during the rally. “I really hurt when these things happen because I know these kids. I got a call in the middle of the night when Jack was shot because I knew him. 

Scenes from the anti-gun violence march in downtown Battle Creek."My ask for the community is that we have to do better. We have to do better in how we secure our weapons, who has access to them, how we teach our children about weapons. We as police officers have to continue to do our job and make arrests when people have weapons that they shouldn’t.”
Perry also said it’s vital that people not get jaded.
“When things like this happen over and over again, year after year, it’s real easy to get jaded. If we can just save one life and prevent one shooting it’s all good,” he says. “Even though there’s absolutely nothing I could have done to prevent Jack’s death, I feel like I should have done something to stop it. We internalize it. I should have been there to stop it. Literally, I look at you all as my children.”
Battle Creek Police Offficer Deandre Perry, a liaison officer at Battle Creek Central High, speaks during an ant-gun violence rally at First Congregational church in downtown Battle Creek.As police officers, Perry said, “We will continue to do our job and I hope that all of you will feel comfortable talking to me personally. If you see a classmate going down the wrong path, come talk to me. We all have to do better as a community. Doing nothing clearly hasn’t worked. We need to work together to make sure things like this don’t happen. Three out of four senior classes in the last four years have lost a classmate to gun violence.”
Student-led, student-driven
Marshall says the SAVE Club will be student-run with adult interaction limited to an advisor and staff who may be walking into the space to see “what we do.”
It’s time, he says, for young people like himself to have a much bigger say in the conversations surrounding gun violence and the steps that should be taken to address it. These steps include adults taking responsibility for safely storing weapons and keeping them out of the hands of their children and lawmakers who will listen and act on the concerns of constituents who seek responsible gun safety legislation similar to what’s been signed into law in Michigan.
Scenes from the anti-gun violence march in downtown Battle Creek.Lawmakers in general, he says, “are not paying attention to what we’re saying. A lot of people are being hurt by the way legislation is going in certain states.”
His message to lawmakers on a national level: “You need to take this responsibility to be a leader and make sure that what needs to happen is happening. Safety should be the most important factor to you. The people who are supposed to protect us don’t see us or support us. I see what they’re doing as inconsequential and that’s just really disappointing.”
In addition to enacting stricter gun safety legislation, Marshall says people have to get past their unwillingness to seek compromise and work together.
“I think it’s a very common occurrence nowadays to hear about gun violence with an us versus them way of thinking and only one of us can be right. Gun violence is too complex to turn it into taking sides. It doesn’t matter what you think or what your political affiliation is. We hope we can agree on that as a people. It frustrates me that older people who have the power to change things should know better and take responsibility. But they just want to fight and argue and not hear what we have to say. It’s just really disappointing.”
Scenes from the anti-gun violence march in downtown Battle Creek.Perez-Patino says she feels like “adults have failed us.”
“Adults don’t know everything. I was told from a young age we need to respect our elders. Right now I feel like the elders and adults who are supposed to be protecting us are slacking. They’re forgetting that we’re here. They’re too caught up in their own morals and beliefs. We’re not saying get rid of all guns, but there really needs to be some kind of restrictions. If a person has anger issues or mental health issues is it really O.K. for them to have a gun?”
In his remarks at the rally, State Rep. Jim Haadsma, D-Battle Creek, said state lawmakers are listening to students and gun owners in Michigan.
“We want common sense gun legislation, safe smart and fair policies that don’t violate the Constitution,” Haadsma said. “As legislators, we are working very hard to ensure that there’s not another tragedy like the one that happened with one of your classmates.”
Mayor Mark Benkhe, who also spoke during the rally said, “Hear me when I say we will not let violence of any kind ruin our city.” He encouraged the students present to “return to keep contributing your talents. There are things you can do to contribute positively to B.C. now. Stand up to bullies, volunteer your time, learn to listen without judgment, show up as a role model in our community. We cannot evolve and grow as a society without people standing up and working to change the world.”
Scenes from the anti-gun rally at First Congregational Church in downtown Battle Creek.The concept for the rally began as a class project for Marshall.
“Seniors at BCCHS do a social action project for their English classes. Some of us did projects focused on inflation or climate change. I’m in a Civil Rights Literature class so we wanted to plan a protest. Our assignment was just to organize it. A couple of people in the community already came up with the idea to do this protest. A couple of middle schoolers were interested in the rally and having it dedicated to gun violence and how it affects student safety. Our teacher explained what people had already been doing and we had the freedom to figure out how this was going to go.”
With the rally behind them, the SAVE Club is the logical next step for BCCHS students who are seeking to create safe spaces and safe schools.
Perez-Patino says she thinks “the fact that we have to make this kind of club is a little bit disappointing and feels a little bit demeaning” because the individual concerns being expressed aren’t enough.
Rachel Walker, Jack Snyder's aunt, speaks during an ant-gun violence rally in downtown Battle Creek.“At the same time, this brings our community closer. This could all be so much better if we just hang together,” she says.
Marshall and Perez-Patino say they don’t want other students to feel the fear and anxiety that they have both experienced from time to time.
A few weeks ago Marshall says he and some other students were sitting in his college advisor’s office and heard a “super loud bang” in the hallway and his advisor immediately got her door closed.
“Half of the people in there thought it was a gun,” he says. “It was just scary. One moment everything’s fine and the next moment, it’s not. It does feel like something that could realistically happen in our school.”
Perez-Patino says she thinks a lot of students feel this way.
“There’s so much anger in this world that people want to get after everyone else and the first thing they think is they want to murder someone. Children are supposed to be safe and learning in a classroom and yet we have to keep this mindset that this could be our last day here.”
Scenes from the anti-gun rally at First Congregational Church in downtown Battle Creek.Someone has to take a stand and hope that people will come together, she says.
“For us to decide that we need this club, I feel like we are being very proactive after Jack’s death. I’m heartbroken, but I’m also angry, and we needed to take a stand,” Perez-Patino says. “We understand that this shooting happened outside of school, but he was still a student and on May 26 Jack was going to graduate with us, but he isn’t.”

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Jane Parikh.

Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.