The names of the 31 people killed in mass shootings in Texas and Ohio were read aloud on Leesburg’s Town Green on Wednesday evening as part of a Vigil for Unity organized by a team of Tuscarora High School students.
The program, which included speeches and musical performances, was attended by several members of the county Board of Supervisors and the Leesburg Town council, but the teens did the talking.
Daniella Marx recalled that her first recollection of such violence was just after her 11th birthday when 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.
“They were elementary schoolers just like me. They were kids—kids who were senselessly murdered in a place where they, also I, were always supposed to be safe,” she said. “I had countless sleepless nights wondering if such a despicable act would ever occur again. I thought for sure that something so heartless, so inhumane, could never be repeated, but as I grew older it repeated again, again and again.”
As a result, Marx avoided large crowds and public spaces, unsure where violence would break out. She found inspiration that her generation could make a difference during the 2018 March for Our Lives rally in Washington, DC, following the shootings in Parkland, FL, where 17 students were killed.
“When one person falls to a senseless act of violence, we all suffer and mourn as a nation. Nothing can ever bring back those 31 lives that were cut short in El Paso and Dayton nor those innocent children in Connecticut, but I and millions of my peers will strive tirelessly to not allow this to be the norm in this country,” Marx said. “Our generation’s exposure to constant media coverage of attack after attack has reconfigured our role in what was once considered adult discussions. We will speak loud and clear because no one should ever feel hunted or defenseless in this country. In the United States of America, no one should ever be brutalized for their race or their heritage and no one should be forced to feel unwelcome in a place they call home.”
Kaylynn Breland said she was gratified to see so many attend their vigil, a response she said was reflective of a caring community. “This could have been us,” the 15-year-old said. “You can’t predict when something like that is going to happen, so I feel so blessed and so lucky to have this.”
She urged her peers and those in the crowd to be politically active and aware and to support leaders willing to make changes.
“We cannot let horrible people doing unspeakable things separate us. We will not let them dismantle our strength and unity as we stand here today, able to heal and move toward tangible, compensable change, rather than inaction,” Breland said. “To everyone directly affected by these shootings or by any form of gun violence … we stand with you. We fight for you. This generation fights for you and we fight for change.”