On Thursday night the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence and the Religious Coalition for a Violence-Free Rhode Island held its second annual Sandy Hook memorial and vigil, A Voice for Victims, at the First Unitarian Church of Providence. In addition to speakers such as Lisa Pagano, Wendy Bowen and Gladys Brown, who have all lost families and friends to gun violence, speakers included Providence mayor-elect Jorge Elorza, Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, Providence Commissioner of Public Safety Steven Paré, Rabbi Sarah Mack of the Greater Rhode Island Board of Rabbis and the Reverend Don Anderson, of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches.
The 250 attendees was about double the number who attended last year’s No More Silence vigil. The program ran a little long at 75 minutes, and was heavy on political, religious and law enforcement speakers. The most moving talks were given by those who lives were impacted by gun violence, those who lost loved ones and whose worlds were turned upside down in the time it takes for a trigger to be squeezed.
Coalition President Jerry Belair emceed the event, noting that this was just one of 197 similar events taking place across the country. Belair said that there have been 99 new gun laws passed in 37 states, adding that, “Massachusetts has the lowest gun death rate in the nation because they passed common sense gun control laws that work.”
Lisa Pagano is the executive director of the Lt. Jim Pagano Foundation. Jim Pagano was shot by his next door neighbor in Cranston, after an argument over an errant tennis ball. The neighbor was upset that the children playing outside during a birthday party allowed the tennis ball to hit his car while they were playing. “What could have been a simple neighborhood dispute,” said Lisa Pagano, “turned deadly because a gun was in the wrong hands.”
“I will never forget that fateful afternoon,” said Gladys Brown, whose son Michael was shot in 2009 at the age of 33, leaving behind two children, “when two Pawtucket police detectives knocked on my door with the most shocking and heartbreaking news a mother could bear…”
Wendy Bowen was a teacher at a Newtown Middle School when a gunman killed 20 students and six teachers next door at Sandy Hook Elementary. She was in lock down with her class, the majority being regular students with some mainstreamed special needs students mixed in, communicating by text message with the outside world as sirens and helicopters filled the air. “Along the way I learned from my sister that the principal of Sandy Hook, a colleague and friend that I knew well, had died along with many children. This was hard for me to hear and not cry, but I could not fall apart in front of my students…”
Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré spoke briefly about passing wise laws that make it more difficult for guns to get into the wrong hands.
Here’s the full video from the event:
Correction: An earlier version of this piece mistakenly implied that the entirety of Wendy Bowen’s class was special needs students. This has been corrected.
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