WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - For the fifth year, a number of Wilmington-area faith communities and local organizations came together for a vigil to remember victims of gun violence and to pray for an end.
The vigil is held annually in early December, in conjunction with nationwide remembrances that coincide with the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, where 20 children and six adults were killed.
Similar vigils were held in Washington DC and across the country to remember all victims of gun violence.
“Statistically, since the Sandy Hook massacre seven years ago, over 200,000 Americans have died and twice that number injured from gunshot wounds,” said Don Arabian, a spokesperson for Wilmington Faiths Against Gun Violence (WFAGV), the group organizing the event. “We have the unenviable status of having one of the highest rate of youth firearms deaths in the world. Tragically, ever year, gun violence incidents in greater Wilmington contribute to those statistics.”
Dozens of people gathered at Warner Temple AME Zion Church on Nixon Street.
“The vigil welcomes all individuals, regardless of beliefs and affiliation, who are concerned about violence in our community, especially gun violence,” organizer Reverend James Hanisian said. “We must get past the polarizing nature of the gun debate and start working together on ways that can reduce gun violence and promote true public safety. As people of faith and conscience, we can’t stand by silently. If we do that, we condone the violence.”
Yolanda Hayes lost her only son, Zalleux Johnson, in Wilmington’s first homicide of 2019.
She shared a strong message of faith.
“To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, so I”ll get home one day. I’ll see him again," Hayes said.
Hayes is now the Vice President of “Moms N Mourning” and supports other grieving mothers.
“I need for you guys to know he’s not here anymore and...it could be your hurt. There’s always someone with new hurt. I just want to reach out and just let you know that you don’t want this to be you, you know, talk to your kids, figure out what’s going on with them. Be nosey. I was, but you know, things happen,” said Hayes.
The vigil included the lighting of candles in memory of all gun-shot victims and the voluntary naming of local victims.