Ann Arbor community members gathered at the First Congregational Church to remember the 27 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, as well as the 150,000 people in the United States who have died due to gun violence, Thursday night. The Ann Arbor chapter of Moms Demand Action, which was founded the day after the Sandy Hook shooting and is now the largest gun prevention organization in the country, organized the event. 

The night began with a performance by the Bach Elementary School Student Choir singing “My Favorite Things,” “Tiny Little Miracles” and “Friends Are Like Diamonds.” Moments to honor and remember the victims were interspersed throughout the event including a moment of silence, the chiming of a bell for a minute, a march with candles and signs and the reading of Sandy Hook victims’ names.

The brightness of the children’s songs and the candles held during the march, as well as the moments of contemplation, were part of the concept of the event according to Maria Bailey, the communications director of the Ann Arbor chapter of Moms Demand Action.

“The basic concept is quiet moments of reflection and lights in the darkness,” she said. “It’s the same where we’re shining a light on gun problems in the country. That’s why we have candles and have these moments of reflection.”

Among the guest speakers was state Rep. Donna Lasinski, D-Saline. In her speech, she discussed her disappointment in legislation permitting easy gun access. She talked about her current work on bills aiming to limit unsafe gun usage, and the importance of action against gun violence taken by everyday people.

“I admire every step that’s taken,” she said. “Every footstep that’s marched. Every letter that’s written to me and my colleagues. You must persist.”

Omkar Karthikeyan, a pediatrician, and graduate of the University of Michigan’s Medical School, also spoke. He highlighted the gravity of the issue and the work that can be done to effect change.

“This is a public health emergency,” he said. “Guns claim as many lives in this country as pediatric cancer. We cannot be complacent in our Ann Arbor home, surrounded by like-minded people. We need to get this message out, our message of truth and of tragedy and take them to other communities.”

April Ryan, the third speaker, is a survivor of the 1988 Hubbard Woods school shooting, when an armed woman, Laurie Dann, entered the building and shot at the children, killing one child and injuring five others. She described the toll this event in her life took on her and her community.

“I wasn’t at the school that day and my brother was safe, so I consider myself more survivor-adjacent as a result,” Ryan said. “Even then, having not been at the site when it happened and three decades later, the event is still remembered by myself and the thousands of people in my community. The ripple effect of an event like this across the population is undoubtable.”

Rochelle Igrisan, a nurse at Michigan Medicine, joined Moms Demand Action over the summer and has been actively working toward their goal of gun violence prevention since then.  

“I’ve been a nurse for forty years,” she said. “I’ve always worked for women and children. And the fact that we continue to have these episodes where children and people are shot so randomly at all these events is just overwhelming to me. I need to be politically active and communicate with our legislators about changing the gun laws.”

Bailey said she strives to reach out to parts of the county who are unaware of the organization’s work. She discussed future events the organization will hold, such as the national “Wear Orange” event in June to raise awareness about gun violence in the United States. She further emphasized the significance of the issue of gun violence, especially in the context of the Michigan Legislature discussing laws relating to gun safety.

“The Sandy Hook vigil this year in Michigan is especially poignant because of what Donna Lasinski was talking about, the different bills that have come through the state House and Senate that deal specifically with gun violence protection and safety in the community,” she said. “Everything is especially poignant right now in 2017 and in Michigan.”

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