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Attendees at Vermilion vigil seek gun measures

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    Gun Violence Vigil at United Church of Christ in Vermilion Aug. 8.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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    Jim Jones of Vermilion, right, attends a Gun Violence Vigil at United Church of Christ in Vermilion Aug. 8.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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    Jim Jones of Vermilion attends a Gun Violence Vigil at United Church of Christ in Vermilion Aug. 8.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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VERMILION — Praying for an end to gun violence should mean more than sending thoughts to those affected, United Church of Christ Congregational member Judy Brizzolara said at a vigil Thursday evening, calling on congregation members to take action.

“We pray not only with mouth and mind, but also with hands and feet,” she said. “We ask God to comfort and heal those hurting and ask her to do her work through us to help us act on her behalf. I don’t know what the ultimate answer is, but I do know the solution is not with more violence, but with more love.”

The Rev. Mindy Quellhorst’s congregation organized the vigil in the wake of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton over the weekend, which have left more than 30 dead and dozens injured. Her call to action was echoed throughout the evening, including in language from Rev. John Dorhauer, general minister and president of United Church of Christ.

Standing on the church’s front lawn, more than 70 people gathered, holding candles and signs reading “Do Something” — a chant taken up by protestors in Dayton at a vigil Sunday night.

Many of those who spoke Thursday called for legislation to ban assault rifles, expand background checks and pass “red flag” laws, which would allow courts to issue temporary orders barring someone from possessing guns based on showing imminent risk of misuse. A federal proposal is in the works.

Karen Rossi, who organized the vigil, noted the evening’s gathering was not only about mass violence, but for those lives lost to suicide involving guns, or more localized shootings. Last month in Lorain, two teenagers were killed and one died by suicide with a firearm.

Illustrating the individual impact, congregation member Pat Stein told those gathered something she’s “never told anyone before” — the story of her sister’s suicide. Stein said growing up her sister had mental health problems that were brushed off by her parents, which grew into intense paranoia as she got older.

Bouncing between counties in Florida and at times California, her sister was hospitalized after attempting to kill herself multiple times. Stein said she was told by caseworkers in Florida that her sister would have gotten better treatment had she been covered under private insurance.

Her sister eventually moved in with a friend who was willing to take care of her, making sure she took her medication, but even that was not enough, Stein explained. The man her sister was living with was a gun collector, especially sawed-off shotguns, which her sister eventually used to kill herself.

“All I have left of my sister is a box of ashes,” she said. “Because she couldn’t get good mental health treatment, because it was not coordinated, because she didn’t have the right insurance.”

Laura Irving, representing Moms Demand Action, said she was in Washington, D.C., last weekend for the group’s annual “Gun Sense University,” when word of the El Paso shooting came out during lunch. Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America was founded by Shannon Watts after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012 and focuses on lobbying for gun reform. Irving said “there was a lot of PTSD in that room,” from parents who had lost children to gun violence to those who remembered being shot. She said organizers set aside a room for members from Texas as the news spread. And Sunday, a room was set up for Ohioans for the same reason.

As the evening wrapped up, Jim Jones, of Vermilion, asked to speak. A member of the congregation, he relayed firsthand experience being involved in a school shooting.

In December 1980 a 14-year-old student at Longfellow Middle School in Lorain brought a gun to school. Thirty-nine years later, Jones can still remember it was 9:12 a.m. when he heard the boy had a gun and began heading for the cafeteria. According to Chronicle-Telegram archives, the boy held about 30 students hostage for a half-hour after shooting a guidance counselor. Jones said in the moment, he was sure the counselor was dead — having been shot just feet from him — but the man later recovered.

He said it doesn’t make any difference what kind of weapon it is — the boy used a .22-caliber handgun compared to the assault-type weapons used in Dayton and El Paso — calling on parents to recognize when their children have a problem.

“It’s not just Florida or Texas,” he said. “It’s 6 miles from here and it’s 39 years ago.”

Contact Carissa Woytach at 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.


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