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Local church displays tombstones to highlight gun violence in America

Below is the article published in today's edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.


A display of tombstones next to St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Grand Haven is in remembrance of the victims who died in gun violence in the United States.


Driving past the church on Washington Avenue, 124 white tombstones with names on them are visible. Walking near and through the display, the amount of tombstones becomes more apparent.


In 2020, there were 45,222 firearm-related deaths in the United States. The 124 “tombstones” on the church’s lawn represent the average number of people who died from gun violence per day in the United States that year.


“The tombstones also represent friends, family members, neighbors who were silenced by gun violence,” said Nancy Collins, ministry team leader for the Grand Haven church. “The information recorded on each tombstone is an actual firearm fatality that occurred in Michigan since Jan. 1, 2022.”


A protest on Oct. 1 included the placing of flowers at each tombstone, and a person laid on the ground in front of a tombstone in remembrance of those who died.


“As protestors placed flowers on each tombstone (that) Saturday afternoon, church member John Scheid made the point that the majority of firearm-related deaths in the United States – nearly 60 percent – are deaths by suicide,” Collins added.


The community is invited to walk among the tombstones and consider the impact of gun violence on everyone in the community.


The tombstones will remain in place until after St. John’s All Souls Service of Remembrance of those who have died on Nov. 2.


“We hope our actions here today have demonstrated that our intent was not merely to share grim statistics about the impact of gun violence in our communities,” said Karen Obits, a member of the church’s Gun Violence Prevention Team. “Because all these lives matter, our intent has also been to raise our voices to demand solutions and to call for passage of gun-safety legislation.”


Community members are also invited to a special Requiem Mass at the church on Dec. 14, which is the 10th anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The prayer and worship service will be held in person and livestreamed.


To get involved or learn more about the St. John’s Episcopal Church’s Gun Violence Prevention Team, visit sjegh.com/endgunviolence.

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