Vigil for the victims of the Uvalde, Texas massacre at KCMO | Wender Mind Kids

Amid a statewide gun debate, dozens of Kansas City residents gathered Tuesday for a candlelight vigil organized to honor the 19 schoolchildren and two teachers who were shot and killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

About 30 people gathered for a brief memorial ceremony at the Latinx Education Collaborative office at 2203 Lexington Avenue in the Pendleton Heights neighborhood of Kansas City, where photos of the children and teachers were shown on large-screen televisions. Candles were distributed to participants and placed next to a painted mural on the side of the brick building.

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Pedro Calderon places a candle as people gather in front of the Latinx Education Collaborative mural for the “Vigilia para nuestros niños” (Vigil for Our Children) to honor children who died Tuesday, May 31, 2022, in Kansas were lost to school violence. Luke Johnson ljohnson@kcstar.com

Twenty-one people were killed, as was the gunman, and several others were injured after another mass shooting that has renewed calls for changes in how guns are bought and owned in Kansas City, said Edgar Palacios, the organization’s founder and director .

“It’s hard to watch the news and see children who have been brutally murdered in a classroom,” Palacios said. “And it’s hard to imagine that it could be your own children, your own cousins, your own family.”

Children and their families often live in fear that they, too, may become victims of gun violence while attending school, said Christy Moreno, a community advocacy and impact officer for Revolución EDucativa. Many struggle with the fallout that follows these tragedies, and those pressures are compounded by the issues that people of color face simultaneously in advocating for social and racial justice, Moreno said.

During the vigil, Moreno said she hoped attendees would walk away with a stronger commitment to ensuring children can live healthy and happy lives.

“It’s time to do something about gun violence,” Moreno said. “My own children are afraid to go outside. Experienced four lockdowns in schools this year alone (because of) guns in school buildings. And that should not be normal.”

Reverend Patrick McLaughlin of Resurrection Church read out the names of the children killed one by one. He asked that those present, after reading each name, respond with “presente” – Spanish for “present” – as a sign that the dead are still here in spirit.

“They are still with us. They live inside each and every one of you,” said McLaughlin, who noted that guns are the leading killer of US children.

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Ivan Ramirez, left, and other community members gather at the Latinx Education Collaborative for a vigil to honor the lives of children lost to school violence, including those killed in Uvalde, Texas last week. The vigil was held on Tuesday, May 31, 2022 in the Pendleton Heights neighborhood of Kansas City. Luke Johnson ljohnson@kcstar.com

Among those attending Tuesday’s vigil was Denise Souza of Kansas City, who brought her one-year-old daughter with her. Souza, a former teacher at Denver and Kansas City public schools, said she decided to quit her job after the Uvalde tragedy.

Souza worked in bilingual programs for five years. She returned to her hometown of Kansas City in part because she wanted to continue down that career path. Now, she said, teachers are facing overwhelming stress and danger – and she’s considering homeschooling her own daughter when the time comes.

“It could have happened to me. That could have happened to my colleagues. It could have happened to my students and I know it can happen because that’s just the reality of this world,” Souza said.

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People gather in front of the Latinx Education Collaborative mural for the “Vigilia para nuestros niños” (Vigil for Our Children) being held at the Pendleton on Tuesday, May 31, 2022 to honor the lives of children killed by violence in schools lost the Heights neighborhood in Kansas City. Luke Johnson ljohnson@kcstar.com

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Pedro Calderon, left, and Amado Espinoza perform music at the Latinx Education Collaborative for the “Vigilia para nuestros niños” (Vigil for Our Children) Tuesday, May 31, 2022, in Kansas City. Community members gathered to honor children lost to violence in schools. Luke Johnson ljohnson@kcstar.com

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Selina Rios lights late night candles as people gather at the Latinx Education Collaborative for the “Vigilia para nuestros niños” (Vigil for Our Children) in Kansas City on May 31, 2022. Luke Johnson ljohnson@kcstar.com

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Late in the evening, people gather at the Latinx Education Collaborative for the “Vigilia para nuestros niños” (Vigil for Our Children) on May 31, 2022 in Kansas City. Luke Johnson ljohnson@kcstar.com

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Candles flicker at the Latinx Education Collaborative for the Vigilia para nuestros niños (Vigil for Our Children) on May 31, 2022 in Kansas City. Luke Johnson ljohnson@kcstar.com

This story was originally published June 1, 2022 7:49 am.

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Bill Lukitsch reports breaking news for The Star. Before joining The Star, he covered politics and local government for the Quad-City Times.

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