Vigils were held around the country last week in memory of the Sandy Hook shootings. It was the fifth anniversary of the 2012 massacre that killed 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook, an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticuit.
An interfaith vigil to end gun violence was held in Andover at the Sri Chinmaya Maruti Hindu Temple on Union Street on Dec. 6. Part of the impetus for the Andover vigil were the recent deaths of two Merrimack Valley women due to gun violence.
"This opportunity to hold a vigil arose and I was conscious of the impact of two events of gun violence in valley recently," said Rev. Lee Bluemel of North Parish in North Andover. "One was Rhonda LeRocque, who was shot at the country music concert in Las Vegas is from Tewksbury. Then on Nov. 26 Mindy Tran was fatally shot in Lawrence. For me, those two stories symbolize how gun violence affects anybody, whether they are urban or rural or suburban. Both of them were mothers of young children. It just felt like gun violence is very close."
The vigil also commemorated the 500,000 victims and survivors of gun violence nationally since that day.
Andover resident Tim Marusich spoke at the vigil, and recounted his experience with gun violence. Marusich's brother committed suicide when he was a sophomore in high school. Marusich was a freshman at the time.
Today, Marusich is a National Survivor Network member. According to Marusich, guns increase the number of suicides annually.
"If someone doesn't succeed the first time, they don't usually try it a second time," Marusich said. "Yet if a gun is available, they usually are successful in killing themselves. Having guns available dramatically increases the number of deaths when it relates to suicide. The majority of gun deaths in the country are suicide. I wove my story into the need for people to lock up their guns, for guns not to be quite as readily available."
Marusich also described feeling powerless after his brother's death. He was inspired by the actions of a mother named Shannon Watts who started a Facebook group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America the day after the Sandy Hook shootings that grew to an organization with millions of members.
"Even though you feel powerless, it really just takes a person to take action to show you have more power than you realize," Marusich said.
Marusich's remarks touched a cord with many in the crowd, according to Rev. M. Lara Hoke of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover.
"He told his story movingly," Hoke said. "He felt that he was his brother's keeper and we are all our bothers' keepers. He gave us lots of ways to feel empowered to stop gun violence. I was especially moved by his story because I too lost a brother who shot himself. Gun violence is much more common than people realize, whether the guns are used in homicide or suicide. The very presence of a gun makes it all too easy to take life and that was something he really brought home in his remarks."
Marusich also informed people at the vigil about the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, a policy that would allow anyone with a concealed carry permit to carry a weapon in public spaces in any state. It was passed by the House of Representatives the same day as the vigil, and will now be considered by the Senate.
There was also music at the vigil, in addition to prayers from an array of religious groups. A bell was rung for one minute in memory of victims to gun violence. The ringing of the bell was a symbolic moment that was incorporated into the vigils held across the country last week.
"Gun tragedies can strike anywhere, any community, without common sense," Hoke said. "Without gun control laws and without the mentality that we are all here to care for each other, these tragedies will continue to happen. The hope is that through doing a better job of passing legislation and doing a better job of being our brothers' keepers, so to speak, we will be able to have far less gun violence."
Representatives from a variety of faiths and organizations including Sri Chinmaya Maruti Hindu temple of Andover, North Parish of North Andover, the Brooks School, the Universalist Congregation in Andover, Temple Emanuel in Andover, St. Paul's Episcopal Church in North Andover, West Parish Church in Andover, and Christ Church of Andover all participated in the vigil.
The vigil raised $450 in donations for Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization working to end gun violence.
If you are seeking assistance, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
Follow Kelsey Bode on Twitter @Kelsey_Bode.