Church to host annual vigil for survivors of gun violence

Signs hang outside Augustana Church urging participation in the annual vigil for gun violence survivors. Each orange piece of cloth represents a child shot since Sandy Hook. (Photo by Mrinalini Pandey)

Contributing Writer

Augustana Lutheran Church of Hyde Park is hosting the 7th Annual Vigil for survivor families of gun violence on Dec. 13 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at 5500 S Woodlawn Ave.

This interfaith event is sponsored by Chicago Survivors, Everytown Survivor Network, Strides for Peace, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, G-Pac, ICHGV, Paving the Way, and SCY Lurie Children. The vigil will take place on the eve of the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting that shook the nation when 20 children (all first graders) and 6 staff members (all women) were killed in a mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 14, 2012.

The Sandy Hook shooting galvanized the nation, prompting debates and urging policy changes about gun control in the U.S. Since then, many advocacy and support groups have come together for gun violence prevention and to try to spark policy changes at city, state, and federal levels.

Maria Pike Davis, a community outreach leader for Illinois with the Chicago Survivors Network and Mom Demands Action, said: “We are expecting to reach capacity this year around 300 people. We are trying very hard to get survivor families to come and join us. This is the only event in the whole year that is solely dedicated to honoring the victims of gun violence.”

Davis, who is also a fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network, said that October to January is a particularly stressful period for many survivor families. “Survivors families are at their lowest from October to January because there are so many celebrations for families – Jewish holidays, Christmas, Muslim festivals. They remember that that chair is empty and they all almost always feel that they are isolated because people don’t always understand grieving/grievances.

“We want them to feel good. We want them to realize that we see them. And we are working for you. At the grassroots level, city level, federal level. That kind of violence exists everywhere. There is no place in Illinois that has no issues with gun violence.”

Davis, who hails from Peru and lives in Chicago, lost her son to gun violence in 2012 in a case of mistaken identity. Her son, who was 24 years old at the time, was murdered in Logan Square when he was trying to park his vehicle in front of his apartment.

According to Davis, the issues in urban city is profound because disenfranchisement is a huge problem. “Why has this kid killed the other one without thinking and doesn’t think anything of it? Why is it that they are devoid of compassion, forget about empathy, devoid of compassion? Because most likely than not you are going to see that this person has been neglected and didn’t see his own life to be a long one. He did not have any signs that he could be anything but what he has been given at first?” she reflected.

In the immediate aftermath of Sandy Hook shootings, petitions to the White House were made to pass legislations for gun control, numerous gun control advocacy groups received huge public support to accelerate their efforts, and many vigils took place to raise awareness around gun violence.

Since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, a total of 2,315 mass shootings have taken place in the country. This year alone, about 400 mass shootings have taken place. Davis attributes this trend of violence to the presence of too many guns. “Nobody is free from gun violence because we have too many guns in this country. Far too many guns.”

Her assertion is coupled by her criticism of the media that she believes in general give more coverage to mass shootings. For instance, she explained, in Chicago this year over 400 people were shot and killed. Yet many of them barely register because they are isolated shootings. The irony, for Davis, is that this same figure would have caught much media attention if it were to happen as mass shootings.

Davis points out that many survivors and survivor families of gun violence still suffer, many in silence, from a lack of support and lack of closure. Many survivors lose their jobs because of PTSD and untreated anxiety, she said, and many do not have access to proper counselling that might help them cope with the loss of a loved one.

In many cases, survivors have to learn to live with it so as to not upset their families or employers. They suffer in silence for years. Over time, this can become a persistent source of stress resulting in many survivors becoming alcoholic or suicidal.

“Only about 20% cases get solved and majority don’t. And all those mothers think that once the perpetrator is put in jail their job is done. But the once that gets solved, they still do not get any closure. You keep living the same way and the only thing that changes for those who get closure and those who didn’t is that they truly didn’t,” said Davis, adding, “we think that closure will make me happy again and bring me peace and solve the problems that I have but closure is another rite of passage. You are never the same person.”

From her own misfortune, Davis shares that she has learned to go forward in a way that elevates the memory of her son. “We need to honor all mothers of gun violence. How do we heal as a community? We forgive each other.”