BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Each victim has a name. Each victim has a face. And each has a story. That’s what Reverend Brian Coleman of St. Thomas Episcopal Church believes. And he using the church’s sanctuary to honor them.
“We started printing photographs of all the victims of mass shootings, only those who died, and posting them up in the church as a memorial,” said Coleman during an interview at the church. “And as a way of keeping their faces in front of us.”
The walls at St. Thomas are covered with over 200 pictures of victims, one stacked on top of the other. Each picture containing a name, an age and, in most cases, a smile. Father Brian, as he's known to many, said after each tragedy he searches for vibrant pictures of the victims, either on Facebook or on a GoFundMe page, that tells the story of their lives.
“It’s the faces that people relate to,” said Father Brian. “So I spend time finding out about these people and finding out what their stories are.”
Father Brian said the Kalamazoo shootings in February sparked something in him to change the way people looked at these tragedies. He started putting up textbook-sized pictures of each victim killed since January 1st. And he included everyone, from the police officers killed in Dallas to less-publicized tragedies like a family of five murdered in Glendale, Arizona . Pictures of the Orlando shooting victims take up an entire wall alone.
"Usually victims of mass shootings tend to be young and they tend to be people of color and that strikes you as you walk around the church,” said Father Brian. “Those are all things we need to be aware of and that needs to shape our response to gun violence going forward.”
Some members of the church were nervous initially about putting up the pictures, he said. However, once they saw them week in and week out, their response changed.
“Members of the congregation have taken action as a result of this memorial, in terms of having conversations around gun violence and in terms of being in touch with legislators,” said Father Brian. “I’m hopeful that that this sort of tribute might lead to action.”
That’s the goal, Father Brian said, to get people talking about gun control. He hopes this memorial will lead to universal background checks, limiting the types of guns people can buy and “closing loopholes” when purchasing them.
“I'm tired of moments of silence.” said Father Brian. "I would much rather have a moment of conversation with someone about gun violence, about gun control. I feel like, this project was a way to respond faithfully to what's going on and something that might help people move into action.”