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T-shirt Memorials Seek to Raise Awareness of Gun Violence

Memorials Seek to Raise Awareness of Gun Violence
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Memorials Seek to Raise Awareness of Gun Violence

Three-year-old Knijah Bibb was visiting a relative when a bullet fired outside came through the house and killed her. Tyler Johnson lost his life at age 25, a victim of a random shooting at a shopping mall. Ruthanne Lodato was fatally shot by a stranger who had knocked on the door of her home. The music teacher was 59.

They were among 155 gunshot victims commemorated at the Memorial to the Lost on a recent Sunday at a church near Washington.

Each T-shirt displayed on the lawn at Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ in Arlington, Virginia, bore the name, age and date of death of one of the people killed by guns in the Washington area last year. The victims’ ages ranged from 3 to 73.

“While the display isn’t going to fix anything, it does heighten the awareness," said Kathy Dwyer, Rock Spring's pastor. "It gives us opportunities to start talking about it from a position of peace building rather than out of reaction and defense.”

A faith-based organization, Heeding God’s Call, began the Memorial to the Lost, also known as the T-shirt Memorial, in Philadelphia in 2013. It was to commemorate the 288 people who were fatally shot in the previous year in the area. Since then, in collaboration with churches, synagogues and mosques, the group has sponsored installations in over 50 sites in other cities.

“We have a compelling commandment that tells us we are to love our neighbor," said Lisa Delity, chairwoman of Heeding God's Call's Washington chapter. "We need to come out of our pews and step up and let people know this is not right, this is not loving our neighbors.”

The visual representation of gun violence struck a chord with many in the Arlington area.

“I am asking myself: When is enough, enough?" said community member Gail Burnaford. "How much do we have to bear before something changes? This visual representation, these are all real people and there are thousands more. I think we need to have lots of people who are not necessarily in the midst of violence like that come and see a representation like this.”

William Cartwright, a member of the Rock Spring congregation, said, "I am a Virginian, and I know Virginia is part of the problem with its very lax gun laws and ability of people to obtain guns in Virginia and take them to the District of Columbia or New York City. And so I see the harvest here of the lack of legislation in Virginia with regards to gun control.”

Organizers hope the memorial will resonate nationwide and inspire legislative change to help stop gun violence.