A ‘sad kinship’ as cities build memorials to victims of mass shootings

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Sandra Mendoza chose a forest green sign to remember the SUV that her husband, Juan Espinoza, a car enthusiast and restorer, proudly purchased before his death.

Trenna Meins chose the phrase “embracing the possibilities” to sculpt on a bench because her husband of 36 years, Damian Meins, was “always ready for anything”.

Shannon Johnson, a county health inspector who died protecting a co-worker, is memorialized in an alcove bearing her burning last words: ‘I got you. The Lord has mercy.”

If design is a window to culture, there is perhaps nothing more telling than the Curtain of Courage Memorial unveiled last week in San Bernardino, California, a sculptural ribbon of bronze and stainless steel. grounds intended to wrap the Mendozas, Meins and Johnsons, among the families who lost 14 loved ones killed in a mass shooting in 2015, in its winding communal embrace.

“We didn’t want a place of sorrow, but of light,” said landscape architect and artist Walter Hood, who thought of the solace of cathedral chapels in his first work commemorating victims of gun violence and survivors. .

The opening of the curtain comes on the heels of recent mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, Uvalde, Texas, Orange, CA, Indianapolis, Ind., Oxford, Michigan – and a phalanx of ongoing permanent memorials have been spawned by the dead . These reflect “part of the cultural landscape in which violence moves beyond the public domain, with loss of life from city to city,” said Hood, a MacArthur Fellow and 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 shooter attack per week, in which one or more shooters killed or attempted to kill multiple unrelated people.

The curved warp layers of the new memorial are meant to evoke body armor. Near the County Government Center employee entrance, the $2.3 million job, paid for by the county, is the culmination of a community design process that began just months after the 2 December 2015, which also left 21 injured when a radicalized couple with semi-automatic weapons burst into a meeting of San Bernardino County Environmental Health Services staff at the Interior Regional Center.

Both public and private, the memorial is made up of 14 alcoves representing the loss of each family as well as the collective strength of the community. The spaces have been customized to reflect the spirit of the dead, starting with the glass panels inserted into each niche that cast light and shadow like a stained glass window. A fitting quote is inscribed on concrete benches, which also contain hidden keepsakes chosen by the families.

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

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

The power of memory in landscape has been a longstanding concern of Hood, from an upright sculpture at Princeton University depicting the positive and negative aspects of Woodrow Wilson’s legacy to Hood’s landscape for the International Afro Museum ship, currently under construction in Charleston, SC, reminiscent of enslaved Africans crammed into the holds of ships and trafficked and stored at the Gadsden’s Wharf site.

Conceiving for families stricken by gun violence was “a pretty heavy burden,” Hood told the Dec. 2 Memorial Committee, which included survivors, emergency medical workers and public and behavioral health experts. “He thought about every victim,” said committee chair and retired county supervisor Josie Gonzales.

It didn’t take long for Gonzales and his colleagues to realize that there were many communities to seek advice from. They traveled to Aurora, Colorado for the dedication of a sculpture of flying cranes honoring the 13 dead and 70 injured on July 20, 2012, while filming at a movie theater. (Similarly, the president of Aurora’s 7/20 Memorial Foundation attended last week’s ceremony in San Bernardino.)

“We know how each other feels,” said Felisa Cardona, county public information officer. “It’s a very sad relationship.”

The number of memorials across the country is “countless,” said Paul M. Farber, director and co-founder of Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit public art and history studio. “For every official site of remembrance dealing with gun violence,” he said, “there are unofficial places, T-shirts bearing the names of victims of gun violence placed in front of churches to young people commemorating their friends on Instagram”.

Local memorials can also tell a lot. Brandon and Heather O’Neill, of Richardson, Texas, set up 19 brown school backpacks on their lawn, in rows resembling a class photo, with two larger bags to represent the teachers who lost their lives at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

To the outpourings of flowers, wreaths and stuffed animals after the mass dramas, are added artists wishing to contribute. “You feel helpless,” said Abel Ortiz-Acosta, artist and owner of the Art Lab gallery in Uvalde. With the nonprofit Mas Cultura in Austin, he is enlisting artists from across 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, Founding Director and Executive Director of MASS Design Group, was prompted to address the issue of gun violence at the opening of the National Peace and Justice Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, where he met Pamela Bosley and Annette Nance-Holt, two Chicago activist mothers who had each lost sons to random shootings and told Murphy there should be a memorial for their children. “I started asking the question, ‘How would it be to commemorate an outbreak that we’re in the middle of?'” he said.

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The result is the Gun Violence Memorial Project, now on display at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, in collaboration with “Justice Is Beauty: The Work of MASS Design Group.” Originally exhibited in Chicago, the design — a partnership with artist Hank Willis Thomas and two gun violence prevention organizations — consists of four houses constructed from 700 glass bricks, with each brick representing the average number of American lives. lost due to armed violence in a given country. the week. The project was inspired by the participatory nature of the AIDS quilt, with each brick a transparent repository for memories – hundreds contributed by families across the country.

“People want to give something of themselves to connect with someone lost,” Murphy said. “It’s a telling human act.” The project aims to spark a dialogue about a permanent national memorial for victims of gun violence.

The San Bernardino memorial has borne fruit, but in other traumatized communities the task continues. Nearly 10 years after 20 first graders and six educators were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, a $3.7 million memorial is on the way to completion, including the “sacred ground” of thousands of flowers, letters, signs, and photos that were eventually removed and cremated. It was a long and emotionally charged process. “People were upset by anything and everything,” said Daniel Krauss, chairman of the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission.

Set in a forest glade near the reconstructed primary school and surrounded by flowering dogwood trees, the design is “a spiral walking meditation” around a central body of water, with the names of the victims carved into the granite , said the landscape architect. Daniel Affleck from SWA. The memorial will first be open to families and then more widely on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the massacre.

The staggering list includes a third commemoration of the 23 people killed at Walmart in El Paso on August 3, 2019, this one by artist Albert (Tino) Ortega and commissioned by the city, and architect Daniel Libeskind’s reimagining of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, incorporating a new shrine, memorial, museum, and anti-Semitism center under a “Path of Light” skylight that zigzags the length of the structure. The Vegas Strong Resiliency Center, a trauma support network created after the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass shooting that killed 58 people and injured at least 413, is working with county and state officials on a memorial on the website of the site.

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“It’s rare to be part of a project that will be here on Earth when we’re gone,” said Karessa Royce, 26, who was 22 when she suffered a serious gunshot wound and sustained injuries. subsequent operations to remove shrapnel. of his throat and spine.

Perhaps most ambitious are the onePULSE foundation’s plans for a $45 million national Pulse memorial and museum at the site of the gay nightclub where 49 people died and 68 were injured, the deadliest LGBTQ attack. of United States history. The design, by Coldefy & Associés, a company based in Lille, France, is reminiscent of Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia. It’s essentially a neighborhood, with a reflecting pond, garden and parabolic canopy around the site of the nightclub, which was designated a national memorial last year. The concept also encompasses a block-length “Survivor’s Walk” and a six-story museum. The plans have spawned a coalition against the Pulse Museum, which, among many issues, opposes “turning a mass shooting into a tourist attraction” – including “memorial merchandise” currently on sale.

As Congress strives to reach a bipartisan gun safety agreement, these sobering monuments show no signs of slowing down. At the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where a white supremacist gunned down nine black parishioners during a Bible study, architect Michael Arad – who describes his waterfalls and contemplative pools in the footprints of the Twin Towers of the 9/11 memorial as “absence made visible” – was absorbed by a memorial to the “Emanuel Nine”.

But even before ideas for courtyards, gardens or Community benches in the shape of angel wings were discussed, Arad, the Israeli-American partner of Handel Architects, was asked about his understanding of forgiveness – a echoing the sentiment expressed by church members that stunned and impressed the nation at the bail hearing for shooter, Dylann Roof. (Roof was eventually sentenced to death.)

The redesigned grounds will be a place to mourn, celebrate resilience and help others learn from the example set by the families of those killed in the racist attack, providing the opportunity for transformation. Reverend Eric SC Manning, the church’s senior pastor, said: “I pray that no matter where we were when we enter space, we can leave differently.

In San Bernardino, Robert Velasco, who lost his 27-year-old daughter, Yvette, said otherwise. “It was a very emotional time,” he said of that December day. “It’s always like that.”

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