Beheading angels: Vandalism can’t diminish impact of memorial to gun violence victims
The sea of 739 flags, 26 angels in front, represented victims of gun violence. Vandals who chopped heads and wings off the angels couldn’t diminish the impact of a memorial to the eighth anniversary of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and near record number of area residents killed in 2020.
The sea of 739 orange flags flapped in the wind; in front of them, 26 lovingly crafted white angels — all representing victims of gun violence.
The display by People for a Safer Society, an Illinois gun violence prevention group formed after the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, that claimed 26 lives — 20 of them children under seven — went up on the lawn of an Evanston church Thursday.
The same memorial has marked lawns at other North Shore churches in previous years, around the anniversary of the fourth worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
There had never been an incident surrounding the memorial, which has grown in number of flags as gun violence in the Chicago area claims more and more lives year after year.
But Sunday, disaster struck the simple but poignant memorial on the rectory lawn of St. Nicholas Church, 806 Ridge Ave. Someone had chopped off the heads and wings of the 26 angels. The angels had stood guard before the sea of flags and sign reading, “#End Gun Violence. Evanston and Chicago GUN VIOLENCE DEATHS THIS YEAR.”
“The flags and angels were very visible on the front lawn for the weekend, a consciousness-raising effort in the work against gun violence. The group is trying to do what they can to put drops of sanity in an ocean of carnage. People were commenting,” said St. Nicholas pastor the Rev. Joseph Tito.
“Nationwide, gun violence has really been off the chain this year. It’s really frightening. I can’t imagine anyone would have anything against these innocent deceased represented by the angels. I pray it wasn’t intentional, that it was maybe random, done by kids.”
Chicago is on track to beat the record 781 homicides in 2016 — 739 murders as of the second week in December, and 673 of those victims of gun violence.
Another 3,128 Chicagoans have been injured by guns this year.
And Cook County recently surpassed 900 homicides thus far — the majority, gun deaths.
“It was my idea to do angels. I couldn’t believe someone would want to destroy them, their little heads and wings ripped off in the middle of the night,” lamented Margaret Sents, the People for a Safer Society board member who lovingly crafted and laminated the angels.
“We filed a police report. There’s no cameras and no significant financial damage, so we know it ends there. We know some think Sandy Hook is an old story. It’s really a current one,” Sents said.
“Just ask the nearly 800 families missing someone this Christmas due to rampant gun violence and a void of commonsense gun laws.”
The group has worked to pass SB 1966, known as the BIO Bill, expanding background checks to all gun sales. It will reduce the flow of illegal guns by depriving the illegal market of a loophole allowing people deemed too dangerous to own a firearm to acquire them no questions asked.
SB 1966 has passed the Illinois House. Proponents hope to gain support within the Illinois Senate when the General Assembly returns in January.
“Unless people understand this is an epidemic, unless people demand action, this bill is liable to slip into oblivion, like all other efforts to pass commonsense gun laws after a mass shooting, after Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, and we’re just going to have more and more flags in Chicago,” Sents said.
Gun violence claims over 37,000 lives annually in the U.S., killing twice as many children and young people as cancer. In the wind, the flags brought that impact home, despite the beheaded angels standing guard Sunday.
Was it, as Tito prays, the prank of kids? Was it an act of hate? After all, someone recently vandalized a church nearby, snipping the word “BLACK” from a banner outside Northminster Presbyterian Church. It had read, “BLACK LIVES MATTER To God and To Us.”
That heinous act drew counter acts of goodness. People filled Northminster’s lawn with their own “Black Lives Matter” yard signs. An anonymous donor paid for 10 new banners.
At St. Nicholas, the organization simply and lovingly crafted 26 new angels Sunday. This time, they bore the names of each Sandy Hook victim. And there the angels stayed, until they were brought down Tuesday.
But the impact of all those orange flags, penetrating our collective numbness to these killings — whether the shootings are en masse or one by one as in this near record year of Chicago homicides — was never diminished.
Beheaded angels, quite frankly, can never lose their wings.
Contributing: David Struett