Rhawnhurst church displays 201 T-shirts to honor gun victims

Posted: August 07, 2014

AS PHILADELPHIA mourns the violent deaths of so many children - including a 3-year-old girl killed Friday by a stray bullet in Grays Ferry - Rhawnhurst Presbyterian Church has installed a memorial of 201 T-shirts, each bearing the name and age of a 2013 shooting victim.

"There is one shirt for every victim of gun violence within the borders of the city in 2013," the Rev. Keith McClain said.

He partnered with Heeding God's Call - a faith-based campaign to end illegal-handgun sales - and erected the activist group's traveling "Memorial to the Lost" on his church's front lawn along Loretto Avenue near Lansing Street, where it will remain through Aug. 16.

A prayer vigil is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at which the public is invited to walk through the memorial, reflect on what it means and, if moved to do so, quietly say a prayer for an end to gun violence.

"We are always hearing about people in the city being shot and dying," McClain said. "We see the number of deaths in the papers. It's easy to just become numb.

"But here is something that puts it right in front of your face," he said. "You can walk through and take some time to read the names and the ages, and realize that each one is a real person, somebody who has a family, who had a life and now it's gone."

Hopefully, McClain said, people experiencing the memorial will "realize we've got to do something about illegal handguns."

Too often, he said, "we think, 'Well, the people who are killed were involved in something they shouldn't be doing.'

"But what about the 2-year-old boy on one of the T-shirts? That kid wasn't doing anything. He was hit while he was in his bedroom, a couple of days before Christmas. That underlines the scope of the problem."

McClain said the relative peacefulness of the church's immediate neighborhood should not prevent residents from understanding that the city's chronic gun violence is a problem for everyone.

"Being in Rhawnhurst, where a lot of these murders haven't happened, it's easy to think it's not a problem for us," McClain said.

"We look for any excuse to explain away violence and catastrophe. But this is our city. These are our fellow citizens. A couple of years ago, there was a shooting just a few blocks from the church. We have to get guns out of the hands of people who should not have them."

On Twitter: @DanGeringer

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