From Philly to Sandy Hook, vigil remembers those slain by gun violence

Joyce Pickles of Moms Demand Action sits with her son Dominic, 6, during a vigil for gun violence victims at Broad Street Ministry on Wednesday, December 11, 2019. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

Joyce Pickles of Moms Demand Action sits with her son Dominic, 6, during a vigil for gun violence victims at Broad Street Ministry on Wednesday, December 11, 2019. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources here. 

When 26 people, including 20 children, were fatally shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, Darnetta Green-Mason felt as devastated as she did when she lost her 37-year old son in a West Philly shooting.

“In a heartbeat, you could go right back and have those same feelings that you had of your child being murdered,” she said of the 2007 killing.

It’s why she’s attended a vigil for the Sandy Hook victims for the past three years at the Broad Street Ministry. The seventh anniversary of the shooting is Saturday.

The vigil, held at the Center City church for five years, has become a way to send support to the parents who lost their children in Newtown, Connecticut, and families in Philadelphia who share the same grief. 

A group gathered to remember gun violence victims at Broad Street Ministry on Wednesday, December 11, 2019. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

Hosted by organizations including CeaseFirePA, Mothers in Charge, and Moms Demand Action, families mourn the frequency at which mass shootings continue to happen in schools, houses of worship, and other public spaces.

They also mourn the more low-profile shootings that happen locally and don’t always get more than a line in the paper. 

“I speak in honor of the folks that I’ve lost, the folks that I’ve lived with, that I’ve loved with all my heart,” said Rosalind Pichardo, with Operation Save Our City, an organization that supports families of gun violence victims. “I honor those who were murdered in my own community.”

She’s lost several loved ones to guns, including her identical twin sister to a self-inflicted wound in 2001, and her brother in a 2012 shooting. 

Pichardo said she feels it’s her duty to bring attention to the other children who continue to fall victim to gun violence, despite local efforts to curb the epidemic.

Rosalind Pichardo is surrounded by canvas portraits of the Sandy Hook victims and candles lit in remembrance of Philadelphia’s own gun violence, after speaking during a vigil held at Broad Street Ministry. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

She’s thinking of young people like Nikolette Rivera, the two-year-old who died of a gunshot wound while in her mother’s arms, and Nasir Jackson, the 19-year-old shot and killed in West Philadelphia.

Standing in front of more than a dozen paintings of the children who died in Sandy Hook, one by one, Pichardo and others spoke about how the work to curb gun violence continues. 

This year alone more than 100 children have been shot in Philadelphia. 

Speakers called for investments in young people and neighborhoods, as well as stricter gun control laws in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Mayor Jim Kenney spoke about the city’s efforts to curb the violence and local supports available to survivors, including the creation of a Rapid Response Team set to provide trauma support and long-term counseling after traumatic shootings.

Dr. Patricia Griffin lights a candle for her son, Darien Griffin, and cousin, Gregory Mumford, during a vigil for gun violence victims at Broad Street Ministry on Wednesday, December 11, 2019. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

One person who didn’t take the microphone was Green-Mason.

Instead, she just lit a candle for the Sandy Hook victims and her son Dwayne. She said he always supported her activism, made her laugh and loved mac and cheese. But he also became addicted to drugs, and that played a role in his killing. 

Sometimes, Green-Mason said the emotion she felt when she learned of Dwayne’s death washes over her when she reads a story in the paper about gun violence. Other times, the dread takes over when she catches a glimpse of the street where her son’s life was cut short — just blocks from her house.

“It never goes away,” she said. “It gets different, that’s what I can say. It does not get better… you learn to cope a little differently as each day goes by.” 

Mourners gathered to remember gun violence victims and view portraits of the children killed in the Sandy Hook shooting following a vigil held at Broad Street Ministry on Wednesday, December 11, 2019. The portraits were created by Lost Dreams on Canvas, an organization that memorials gun violence victims through art. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

Green-Mason said one way she copes is through her activism with the group Mothers in Charge, or by supporting people on the anniversaries of the worst day of their lives — even if they’re states apart from each other. 

“You always want to keep the memory of your loved one alive and events such as this [vigil] help you to do that and also recognize others who have been lost to this gun violence,” she said. 

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