Santa Rosa church hosts vigil against gun violence to remember mass shooting victims

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A bell chimed each time Deacon Pamela Moore read a name of a mass shooting victim, her piercing voice carrying over the intended chaos of the church as the chorus sang and a member shouted “This must end!”

The Vigil Against Gun Violence held Sunday at Santa Rosa’s Episcopal Church of the Incarnation marked the one-year anniversary of the national March for Our Lives protest that followed the February 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting that left 17 students and staff dead, and just as many injured.

The Alleluia Choir was instructed to dress for a funeral to help set the mood for the occasion.

Posters of those gunned down in mass shootings across the United States — Parkland, Orlando, Charleston, Newtown, Columbine — were presented and walked through the church as the choir offered tribute in Latin refrain. Each of the 19 photos represented the many others lost in each successive tragedy, and the reading of one final name built the organ-backed crescendo to a roar in the small wood-buttressed church before suddenly ending with deafening silence.

Parishioner Beverly Kinnison, motivated to join the fight against a litany of mass shootings — the latest about a week ago at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand — composed the musical arrangement. She hoped the piece titled “The Murder of Innocents” that sparked the vigil would inspire others to get involved.

“The Parkland shootings hit me really hard, hit a lot of people really hard,” Kinnison said. “I started writing the piece to kind of express my anger. It was supposed to be just personal, and then the shootings kept happening and the piece kept growing … and so here we are.”

The special event doubled as a call to action. In his sermon, Rev. Stephen Shaver petitioned attendees to help resolve what he called American society’s “sickness of the spirit” through an “addiction to guns,” by demanding laws such as universal background checks for gun purchases, as well as mandatory permits and safety training to own a firearm.

“Since the time of the Bible the weapons have changed, but our hearts have not,” Shaver told the audience of about 100. “We know that the human heart has been capable of violence for as far back as human hearts go. So yes, people kill people, but people with guns are capable of killing people in different ways, on a different scale than ever before.”

Chris Thomas-Melly, 66, of Santa Rosa, and a friend saw the banner outside the Episcopal church earlier this week inviting the community to attend. She said her father, Ross Thomas, was murdered by a gunman almost 50 years ago in Hartford, Connecticut, not far from Newtown, the site of the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Her eyes welling with emotion, Thomas-Melly said every time a mass shooting takes place she feels a personal connection to the next community that’s forced to suffer.

“Life changes in an instant,” she said. “The rug is pulled out from under you and you’re kind of free-falling. It changed all of our lives for my family, and this goes on for family after family after family.

“We’re all traumatized because of the availability of guns. It’s ridiculous,” Thomas-Melly added. “It’s mass insanity.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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