Emotions ran high as members of the Baraboo, Wisconsin, community came together to meet following global backlash over the controversial photo showing high school students appearing to give a Nazi salute.
Inside Edition attended Thursday's community forum, where residents spoke their minds.
"There is a level of ignorance that's going on here," said Sherry Lentz.
"It's hurt everybody," added Kristen Wells.
At the center of the meeting was the now-infamous photo of Baraboo High School students taken before last May's junior prom, many of them raising their hands in what appears to be the Sieg Heil salute. One student also seems to be flashing a white power sign with his hand.
Some said the photo symbolizes an ongoing problem in the city. "My understanding from my kids is that there is racism being allowed to be expressed in the hallways, racial slurs are being used, white supremacist slogans are being used, and it's just unacceptable," said Diane Deering.
Thursday's discussion became quite tense at times. Many were adamant the image does not reflect their city's beliefs and should not define them. Other spoke passionately about protecting the boys in the image, who have been receiving death threats.
"To me it looked like an innocent picture, that's what it looked like to me, they were waving," said Lisa Ellsworth.
"I definitely think they knew exactly what they were doing," countered Isabella Dubray, who just graduated from Baraboo High School, "and they need to pay for it, they need to acknowledge and take accountability for their actions."
Now-high school senior Brock Turkington, who is pictured raising his hand in the image, told local station WISC earlier this week that the picture is being misinterpreted and the students were just "goofing around." "[The photographer] said, 'Alright boys, last one, throw up the "hi sign,"' and it was kind of a mass confusion because we were all kind of goofing around," Turkington said.
The photographer, Pete Gust, defended the photo, saying he didn’t tell the boys to salute anything. "[I said,] 'Give me ... a wave that you're saying goodbye to your parents.’ And I called it ‘high five' ... and so I stuck my hand up, and I said, ‘This is what I want.’ I didn't tell them to salute anything,” he told news outlet Madison 365 earlier this week.
But others have said the picture is not so innocent.
One of the boys in the image, Jordan Blue, refused to salute. Asked if he thought the other boys knew what they were doing, Blue replied in the affirmative. “I think they did," Blue said. "It did not represent my morals, and I could not do something that I didn't believe in. Some of these people have bright futures ahead of them. So why did they do it?”
What all of Thursday's meeting attendees did agree on is that this incident does not define the city.
"If we don't pay attention to what history is, we will repeat it!" said Kathy Michael.