African-American clergy on Monday boarded a Chicago Transit Authority bus for a symbolic ride calling for stricter gun laws and more community presence on local buses and streets. Later, hundreds of students walked out of a south side high school to honor a classmate shot and killed on the same bus route last week and to demand safer conditions.

Stephen Thurston, a product of the Chicago School System and pastor of New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church, told media the time had come to “demand from our legislators that we pass some laws against easy access to guns.” Thurston is also president of the National Baptist Convention of America, Incorporated.

Blair Holt, 16, a popular junior at Percy L. Julian High School, mortally wounded in a gang-related shooting aboard a CTA bus while riding home from school last, Thursday, became the 20th Chicago public school student killed this year by gunfire. Holt, like four other Julian students wounded in the shooting, was not a gang member but an innocent bystander.

Holt is credited with saving the life of classmate Tiara Reed, who was talking to Holt about new shoes he planned to wear to an upcoming Jackie Robinson parade before the mayhem. She tried to stand up when the shooting began, but Holt pulled her back into her seat, using his body to shield her. Her legs flew into the air, and she was shot in the foot.

Holt wasn’t as fortunate. Struck in the abdomen, he later died. Paramedics who tried to save his life said he made one request–to tell his parents he loved them.

His mother, Chicago Fire Department Captain Annette Nance-Holt, told a local TV station she wasn’t surprised by her only child’s heroism. “This is the story about a young black man who had a promising future ahead for himself and who could change the world, who could change a lot of things and who people looked up to,” she told Chicago station CBS-2. “For the 16 years that I had him, he was a joy, a blessing.”

Holt’s father, a Chicago police officer, joined 10 ministers on Monday’s symbolic ride marked by hymn singing and prayer.

“It seems like we’re besieged with what I call neighborhood terrorists,” Ronald Holt told the Chicago Tribune on Sunday, three days after his son’s death. “We have so much gang-related shooting in the African-American community.”

Officer Holt on Monday thanked protesting students at his son’s school but urged them to return to class. The boy’s mother walked with students. Media reported that students would likely face discipline for staging the 10 a.m. walkout, which lasted about an hour.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan said students were angry about the shooting and fearful of retaliation.

“Somehow as a society we have to figure out how we get some sensible gun control laws,” Duncan said a press conference. “This doesn’t happen in other countries. It doesn’t happen in Japan. It doesn’t happen in Australia.”

“We can’t put police on every bus in the city,” Duncan said. “We have to stop treating the symptoms of this and get at the root cause. When are we going to say enough is enough?”

Erica Thomas, a classmate of Holt at JulianHigh School, told a Chicago television he “was a special boy.”

“He wasn’t in trouble,” Thomas said. “He was a sweetheart, and for saving that girl he risked is own [life]. We’re going to miss him very much.”

The principal of the school, William Harris, told the Chicago Tribune Holt was a good student with a “bright future,” who was taking physics and other college preparatory classes.

Chicago Public Schools chief Duncan said at the bus shooting press conference that 20 students in the city school system, which has more than 435,000 students in 600-plus schools, have died this year from gunfire.

Duncan, who is white, told reporters: “I have to say, and this is a little controversial, if there were 20 people killed from the Hinsdale school system or Winnetka school system [two affluent Chicago suburbs], would that be tolerated? I don’t know what the answer to that would be.”

“I think we need to start valuing our children,” Duncan said. “Right now we value our right to bear arms a lot more than we value our children. In other countries this thing is a very different situation. I think at a certain point in society there has to be some sense of outrage, some sense that children should not have to live in fear, some sense this is not how any children should have to grow up.”

Two teenagers have been charged as adults in Holt’s death. Michael “Mario” Pace, 16, is charged with one count of murder and five counts of attempted murder for the shooting, which reportedly resulted from a simmering gang conflict.

Kevin Jones, 15, faces identical charges for allegedly giving Pace the gun, while knowing he wanted to use the weapon to try and kill someone he argued with almost daily, possibly over a girl. Police said the intended victim, whom they also had identified, wasn’t among those injured.

But Duncan, the Chicago school head, said: “The answer is not the police just keep arresting bad guys with guns. Somehow we have to get to the root cause of guns.”

“We’ve had idiot kids for generation,” Duncan said. “They didn’t all have guns. They didn’t have such easy availability. We can expel these kids. We expelled this kid. They can go get a gun. We as a society just don’t value our children, and we permit them to live in a state of fear that is incomprehensible to me.”

The parents of Holt and the parents of the girl who credits his quick thinking with saving her life met for the first time Saturday night, when Tiara Reed and her parents visited their home to say “thank you.”

On Sunday Tiara nursed her injured foot while friends and family streamed in and out of her family’s yard for a Mother’s Day barbecue.

An honor student who plays basketball and volleyball at Julian, Reed will finish out the school year at home, her parents told the Chicago Sun-Times. They are debating whether to keep her at Julian or transfer her.

Tiara said she would be happy to stay at Julian but, “I ain’t getting back on the bus.”

Like her late friend, after she graduates Tiara would like to attend Clark Atlanta University, a 5,000-student United Negro College Fund institution founded in 1988 by consolidation of two historically black colleges: Atlanta University, established in 1865, and Clark College, founded in 1869.

“I know Blair wanted to go to Clark,” she said. “So when I go, I’m going to represent him.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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