University of Maryland community members gathered at a vigil Friday night at McKeldin Mall to remember and honor the lives of the Michigan State University shooting victims.
The fountain on the mall was illuminated with candles and flowers, as students, faculty and campus police honored the lives lost with moments of silence and shared their frustrations and experiences with gun violence.
In an emotional speech, Isabella Socha-Soares, a sophomore criminology and criminal justice and psychology major, emphasized how important it is to remember the victims.
“These were real, everyday students who went to the student union and never came back,” Socha-Soares said, “They deserve not to be forgotten.”
The shooting happened on Feb. 13 when a gunman opened fire at Berkey Hall, an academic building on Michigan State’s campus, and then at the student union, killing three students and injuring five others. National conversations about America’s gun violence epidemic were reignited, and Michigan lawmakers introduced new gun control bills three days after the shooting.
Socha-Soares is the president of this university’s new Students Demand Action chapter, which organized the vigil. After growing up in an area plagued by gun violence and knowing people who have been killed, she said she could no longer sit by without doing anything. Her high school went into lockdown several times after people allegedly brought firearms to school.
Socha-Soares said the shooting at Michigan State hit especially close to home because it happened at another school in the Big Ten.
“We all have hopes and dreams, and we don’t want gun violence to take those dreams away from us and our communities,” Socha-Soares said.
In a speech at the vigil, university President Darryll Pines highlighted the 120 initiative, a partnership between experts at this university and other local schools who are developing solutions to gun violence. The initiative, which is named after the 120 people on average who die each day from gun violence across the country, is holding a conference in Washington, D.C., on March 1.
Pines also urged the attendees to channel their emotions into action and to advocate for change.
Robert Smith, a redshirt sophomore wide receiver on the Maryland football team, emphasized the importance of connecting as a community to promote change. He said it’s important to be vulnerable after tragedies like this to become stronger.
“It sucks that situations like these are the way that we have to come together, but it’s the reality,” Smith said. “The only way we can grow as a community is by understanding and accepting.”
Sophia Gabbei, a freshman criminology and criminal justice and French major, said she attended the vigil because she is from Michigan and has friends who go to Michigan State. The shooting put things into perspective for her because it was so close to home, she said.
“They’re my fellow friends, fellow college students, they’re freshmen too,” Gabbei said. “It’s a really hard experience but I think it’s just good to come together to show support.”