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A ‘Sad Kinship’ as Towns Build Memorials to Victims of Mass Shootings

Sandra Mendoza chose a forest green panel to remember the SUV that her husband, Juan Espinoza, a car enthusiast and restorer, proudly bought before his life was taken.

Trenna Meins chose the phrase “Embrace the possibilities” to carve on a sofa because her husband, who is already 36 years old, Damian Meins, “was always up for anything”.

Shannon Johnson, a county health inspector who died shielding a colleague, is remembered in a niche with his burning last words, “I have you. Lord, have mercy.”

If design is a window into culture, perhaps nothing is more revealing than the Curtain of Courage Memorial unveiled last week in San Bernardino, California, a patterned bronze and steel sculptural ribbon intended to celebrate the Mendozas, Meinses, and Johnsons. envelop, among the families who have lost 14 loved ones killed in a mass shooting in 2015, in his tortuous communal embrace.

“We didn’t want a place of sadness, but of light,” said the landscape architect and artist Walter Hoodwho reflected on the comfort of cathedral chapels in his first work commemorating individuals lost to gun violence, and the survivors.

The opening of the Curtain comes on the relentless heels of recent mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, Uvalde, Texas, Orange, California, Indianapolis, Ind., Oxford, Michigan — and a phalanx of permanent memorials in progress has been spawned by the dead . These reflect “a part of the cultural landscape in which violence overtakes public spaces, with loss of life from city to city,” said Hood, a MacArthur fellow and a professor in the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley. . In 2021 alone, there was an average of more than one active gunman attack per week, with one or more gunmen killing or attempting to kill multiple unrelated people.

The curved chain layers in the new monument are intended to evoke body armor. Near the employee entrance of the County Government Center, the $2.3 million, county-funded work, is the culmination of a community design process that took place just months after the terrorist attack on December 2, 2015, also injuring 21 when a radicalized couple with semi-automatic weapons barged into a San Bernardino County Environmental Health Services staff meeting at the Inland Regional Center.

The monument, which is both public and private, consists of 14 niches that represent the loss of each family, as well as the collective strength of the community. The spaces were personalized to reflect the spirit of the fallen, starting with the glass panels placed in each niche, casting light and shadows in the way of stained glass. On concrete benches is a suitable quote, which also contains mementos chosen by the families.

Mendoza added an image of a miniature hot rod and a family photo plucked from her husband’s wallet encased in a resin cube.

Tina Meins, the daughter of Trenna and Damian Meins, remembers traveling to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and eating street food together in Vietnam. “When people go to the alcove, they know who my father was and why he mattered,” Tina said.

The power of memory in the landscape is a longstanding preoccupation of Hood’s, from a vertical sculpture at Princeton University representing positive and negative aspects of Woodrow Wilson’s legacy to Hood’s landscape for the International African American Museumnow under construction in Charleston, SC, commemorating the enslaved Africans who were packed in the holds of ships and traded and stored at the site at Gadsden’s Wharf.

Designing for families affected by gun violence was “a pretty heavy burden,” Hood told the Dec. 2 Memorial Committee, which was made up of survivors, medical workers and public health and behavior experts. “He thought of every victim,” said Josie Gonzalesthe chairman of the committee and a retired provincial supervisor.

It didn’t take long for Gonzales and her colleagues to realize there were countless communities to seek advice from. They traveled to Aurora, Colorado, to inaugurate a sculpture of flying cranes in honor of the 13 killed and 70 injured during filming in a movie theater on July 20, 2012. (Like Aurora’s chair 7/20 Commemoration Foundation attended last week’s ceremony in San Bernardino.)

“We know how each other feels,” said Felisa Cardona, a spokesperson for the province. “It’s a very sad relationship.”

The number of memorials across the country is “countless,” said Paul M. Farber, director and co-founder of the Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based not-for-profit public art and history studio. “For any official remembrance site dealing with gun violence,” he said, “there are the unofficial sites, from T-shirts with the names of gun violence victims posted outside churches to young people commemorating their friends on Instagram.”

Homegrown memorials can also speak volumes. Brandon and Heather O’Neill, of Richardson, Texas, put 19 maroon school backpacks in their front yard, in rows that resemble a class photo, with two larger suits to represent the teachers who lost their lives at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

The outpourings of flowers, wreaths and hugs after mass tragedies are accompanied by artists willing to contribute. “You feel helpless,” said Abel Ortiz-Acosta, artist and owner of Art Lab Gallery in Uvalde. With the non-profit Mas Culture in Austin, he is recruiting artists from all over Texas to participate in “the 21 Mural Project” to create portraits of the 19 children and 2 teachers massacred at Robb Elementary School last month.

Michael Murphy, the founder and director of MASS Design Groupwas asked to address the issue of gun violence during the opening of the National Monument to Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., where he met Pamela Bosley and Annette Nance-Holt, two Chicago activist mothers who had each lost sons to random shootings and told Murphy to put up a memorial to their children. “I started asking the question, ‘What would it be like to commemorate an epidemic we’re in the middle of?'” he said.

The result is the Gun Violence Memorial Projectnow on display at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, in collaboration with “Justice Is Beauty: The Work of MASS Design Group.” Initially exhibited in Chicago, the design – a collaboration with the artist Hank Willis Thomas and Two Gun Violence Prevention Organizations – consists of four houses built of 700 glass bricks, with each brick representing the average number of American lives lost to gun violence in any given week. The project was inspired by the participatory nature of the AIDS quilt, with each brick acting as a translucent repository for mementos—hundreds contributed by families from across the country.

“People want to give something of themselves to connect with someone who has been lost,” Murphy said. “It’s a revealing human act.” The project aims to initiate a dialogue about a permanent national monument to victims of gun violence.

The San Bernardino monument has paid off, but in other traumatized communities, the task continues. Nearly 10 years after 20 freshmen and six teachers were murdered on December 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. , plates and photos that were eventually removed and cremated. It has been a long and emotionally charged process. “People were upset about anything and everything,” said Daniel Krauss, president of the Sandy Hook Permanent Commemoration Commission.

Located in a clearing in the forest near the rebuilt primary school and surrounded by flowering dogwoods, the design is intended to be “a walking meditation in a spiral” around a central body of water, with the names of the victims carved in granite, the said. landscape architect Daniel Affleck from SWA group† The memorial will open to families first and then wider on the 10th anniversary of the massacre.

On the dizzying list is a third commemoration of the 23 people killed in the El Paso Walmart on August 3, 2019, this one by the artist Albert (Tino) Ortega and commissioned by the cityand Architect Daniel Libeskind’s reinvention of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, with a new shrine, memorial, museum and anti-Semitism center under a “Path of Light” skylight that zigzags its way the length of the building. The Vegas Strong Resiliency Centera trauma support network created after the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival that killed 58 people and injured at least 413 is working with county and state officials to build a memorial at the site’s location.

“It’s rare to be part of a project that will be here on Earth when we’re gone,” said 26-year-old Karessa Royce, who was 22 when she suffered a critical gunshot wound and had subsequent surgeries to remove shrapnel. to delete. from her throat and spine.

Perhaps the most ambitious is the onePULSE Foundations plans for $45 million National Pulse Monument and Museum on the site of the gay nightclub where 49 people died and 53 were injured, the deadliest LGBTQ attack in US history. The design, by Coldefy & Associates, a firm based in Lille, France, is reminiscent of Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasília. It is essentially a neighborhood, with a reflecting pond, garden and parabolic canopy around the nightclub grounds, which was designated as National Monument last year. The concept also includes a block-long “Survivor’s Walk” and a six-storey museum. The plans have come true Coalition against the Pulse Museumwhich, among many issues, objects to “turning a mass shooting into a tourist attraction” – including “commemorative items” currently for sale.

As Congress struggles to strike a bipartisan deal on gun safety, these sobering landmarks show no sign of abating. At Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, where a white supremacist shot nine black parishioners while studying Bibles, the architect Michael Arad — who describes his contemplative waterfalls and pools in the footprints of the Twin Towers on the 9/11 memorial as “absence made visible” – is included with a memorial to the “Emanuel Nine”.

But before ideas for courtyards, gardens or Fellowship benches shaped like angel wings even came up, said Arad, the Israeli-American partner of Handel Architects, was asked about his understanding of forgiveness — an echo of the sentiment of church members that astonished and impressed the nation at the hearing for the gunman, Dylann Roof. (Dak was eventually sentenced to death.)

The redesigned site will be a place to mourn, celebrate resilience and help others learn through the example of the families of those killed in the racist attack, and offers the opportunity for transformation. The Rev. Eric SC Manning, the church’s senior pastor, said, “I pray that no matter where we were when we entered the room, we may leave differently.”

In San Bernardino, Robert Velasco, who lost his 27-year-old daughter Yvette, put it differently. “It was a very emotional time,” he said of that December day. “It still is.”

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