A group of more than 50 gathered in Kensington on Tuesday to grieve the deaths of the victims in last months mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y. and Uvalde, Texas. Credit: Photos by Dan Schere

After losing friends in high school and college to gun violence, Silver Spring resident Lucas Intrater had a message Tuesday night for those who have yet to understand gun violence in the United States.

“Don’t wait until it’s already affected you to start caring,” he told Bethesda Beat following a vigil in Kensington.

Intrater was one of more than 50 people who gathered in Kensington’s Flinn Park for a candlelight vigil to mourn the deaths of those who were killed in last month’s mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y, and Uvalde, Texas.

The Buffalo shooting occurred May 14 when an 18-year-old man killed 10 Black people in a  grocery store in what authorities have said was a racially-motivated hate crime. Ten days later, an 18-year-old man opened fire at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and two teachers.

During Tuesday night’s 20-minute ceremony in Kensington, participants stood in a circle and read the names of the victims of the two shootings, as well as a couple of sentences about each person.

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”37″ display=”basic_thumbnail”]After the vigil, Intrater said he was friends with JC Webster – a 2015 graduate of Albert Einstein High School in Kensington who died at the age of 20 after being shot in his home in 2017.   

“I want people who think it doesn’t affect them now to know that it could affect them,” Intrater said.

Vigil organizer Derek Symer is from Buffalo and said the last few weeks have been very emotional as he grieves for his hometown. Symer said he still has friends and family who live there.

“It keeps on happening,” he said of the mass shootings. “The numbers are staggering. Gun violence results in over 40,000 lost lives a year and every time we hit one of these events, it seems like something needs to change or will change, but nothing has changed up to this point.”

Symer said he feels somewhat optimistic about the impact of state laws such as Maryland’s ban on unserialized firearms, or ghost guns, that took effect Wednesday.

“Does it give me full optimism? No. But I think maybe these are the incremental changes needed to effect positive change,” he said.

Symer’s daughter Lilly, a fifth grader at Kensington Parkwood Elementary School, said she believes better mental health care and stronger firearms restrictions are needed. Lilly Symer said she feels safe at school, where students and staff practice various drills each month, including those for fire, severe weather and an active shooter in the building.

“I do wish we had a better point in time where we wouldn’t have to do it, but I guess where we are right now, we have to, and I’m OK with that,” she said of the active shooter drills.

Several local and state elected officials attended Tuesday’s vigil, including state Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, a Democrat whose district includes Chevy Chase, Kensington, and parts of Silver Spring.

“It hits close to home,” he said. “My wife is from Buffalo. She knows exactly where that supermarket is,” he said.

Kensington Mayor Tracey Furman said she, like many others, is tired and frustrated at the mass shootings that continue to occur nationally. But Furman said she feels fortunate to live in Maryland, where there are stricter gun laws.

“I’m not against guns or people owning [guns],” she said. “I have two kids in the military. They’ve used those types of weapons [that were used in the shootings]. They’re trained with them. That’s their profession. But to give an 18-year-old a weapon with no training … I’m speechless.”

Danielle Veith, a volunteer with the national advocacy group Moms Demand Action, which works on gun violence issues, said Tuesday that she feels proud to be working on the issue of gun violence.

Veith noted that Moms Demand Action was formed shortly after the December 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which a gunman fatally shot 26 students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She said people who say nothing has changed in the country since the Connecticut shooting are wrong.

“It’s so frustrating … I spent the better part of the last five years volunteering 40 hours a week,” she said. “So I know what kind of organizing is being done.”

Veith said that after each mass shooting, more people are having their “enough moment” and are getting involved in their organization, which has eight million supporters.

“We really are trying to meet people where they are and help ordinary people and parents take action, and for me, that’s the only thing that keeps me sane. I couldn’t process this without knowing that I’m doing something about it,” Veith said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com