Prayer vigil held in memory of gun violence victims


WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) –  Around twenty-five Wilmington-area faith communities and organizations came together Monday evening for a candlelight vigil to pray for an end to gun violence and to remember the many local victims of that violence.

Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, and Fort Lauderdale Airport were just a few shootings that took the lives of many this year. Tonight’s vigil was a reminder of those and also the violence here at home.

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The vigil held at Riverfront Park featured prayers for victims, their families, those working to curb gun violence in our community and for the courage to stand together against violence in all its forms.

“I don’t want my kids to grow up taking that path,” says Juneshia McKnight who’s mother Judy also spoke at the vigil as the leader of Moms in Mourning.

McKnight is talking about the path of those who were named aloud during the interfaith prayer vigil.

“We cry out to you to heal our souls from this scourge of violence,” prayed St. Jude’s Metropolitan Community Church Reverernd John McLaughlin

Violence took McKnight’s brother William Riley five years ago. She brought her kids to the vigil to make sure they hear the message.

“I don’t want them growing up and being a part of that and to take a different route and to also know that it’s not okay to kill someone,” McKnight said.

McKnight and her family stood alongside dozens of others. Many thinking of the mass shootings that made 2017 the deadliest year in modern U-S history.

Some also thinking of the recent deaths locally. WPD reports 20 people have been killed this year.

The most the city has seen in more than a decade.

“I like that they got the children involved too it starts you know young changing minds, changing attitudes about guns,” said Michelle Hellner.

Hellner is on the different side of the coin. She’s never lost someone to a shooting or violence.

Her church was one of the first to organize this vigil, she like McKnight wants to see change.

“I do have faith that someday this won’t be necessary,” Hellner said.

This was the third annual December prayer vigil to be sponsored by local faith communities, according to Don Arabian a spokesperson for Wilmington Faiths Against Gun Violence (WFAGV).

As with the last two years, the vigil will be held in conjunction with the National Prayer Vigil Weekend Against Gun Violence, a nationwide event conducted each year during a period in December that most closely coincides with the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the deadliest mass shooting at a high school or grade school in U.S. history. This year, as in past years, similar vigils will be held across the country to remember all victims of gun violence and to pray for an end to that violence.

“Some 30,000 Americans die every year of gun-shot wounds, another 60,000 or more are injured”, said Arabian. “Tragically, ever year, gun violence incidents in Greater Wilmington contribute to those statistics, with some twenty gun-shot victims so far this year in Wilmington and the surrounding area.”

Another vigil organizer, the Reverend James Hanisian said, “We are trying to get past the polarizing nature of the gun debate and begin to work together on ways that can reduce gun violence. As people of faith and conscience, we can’t stand by silently. If we do that, we condone the violence.”

The vigil included the lighting of candles in memory of all gun-shot victims and the voluntary naming of local victims.