A group of Mainers joined a nationwide Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence on Friday evening at the First Parish Church in Portland, gathering to remember those affected by shootings and to renew the call for “sensible” gun laws.

The vigil marked six years since the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 first-graders and six educators were killed. On Friday morning, the school in Newtown, Connecticut, was evacuated and the students were sent home after a bomb threat was made around 9 a.m.

About 100 people attended the vigil at Portland’s oldest church, mirroring gatherings held across the nation in recent days, including events in Wilmington, North Carolina; Duluth, Minnesota; and San Antonio, Texas. The vigil included speeches, readings and performances.

“The tragic truth is that gun violence happens not just in big cities but all throughout America, including right here at home in Maine,” said Judi Richardson, founder of the Remembering Darien Foundation, whose daughter died as a result of a gunshot in her home in Portland in 2010.

“It may be too late for us. We can’t have Darien back,” Richardson said. “But it’s not too late to prevent more tragedies, because people’s lives matter more than politics. With your help, we can put pressure on the Congress we elected to pass sensible gun laws.”

The vigil was co-sponsored by the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, Maine Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Remembering Darien to call attention to an estimated 600,000 Americans who have been killed or injured by guns since December 2012, according to the Newtown Foundation.

New data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that gun deaths in the United States reached a record high in 2017, when 39,773 people were fatally shot, CNN reported Friday. That’s 10,000 more than the number of gun deaths in 1999 and the highest rate in nearly 40 years.

One speaker at the vigil noted reason to hope, pointing to an article in The New York Times on Friday that said while Congress has taken no action since the shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February that killed 17 high school students and staff members, state legislatures have passed 69 gun control measures.

Geoffrey Bickford, right, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, welcomes people to the Vigil to End Gun Violence, held Friday at the First Parish Church in Portland.

Geoffrey Bickford, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, urged people to “advocate for the changes in the laws and regulations that we know are needed in this state, and in this country, so that we can stop having vigils someday.”

The audience included Anne Falk, field advocate for the Maine Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“We’re not spokesmen for gun legislation,” Falk said before the vigil. “Suicide is complicated. There are many causes. Promoting gun safety is a big part of our work.”

The vigil included musical performances by the Sea Change Chorale and Con Fullam and the Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus, as well as readings by Martin Steingesser and Judy Tierney.

Shaman Kirkland, student outreach director for the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, read a prayer during the vigil in a deep baritone.

“During these times we must open our hearts and our arms and remind ourselves and each other,” Kirkland said, “that there are more candles than guns, more love than hate and much more light, stronger, brighter and more powerful than any evil or danger that may swirl around us.”


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