By Maddy Vitale
Wearing orange and carrying posters that read “We Can End Gun Violence” and “Every Town For Gun Safety,” about 150 people marched across the Ninth Street Bridge Saturday, from Somers Point to Ocean City, to take a stand against gun violence in America.
The event was hosted by the group Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America. Janet Yunghans, one of the organizers of the rally, said she joined the organization after the Parkland shootings Feb. 14, 2018.
Going online to voice her sadness and anger over mass shootings was not enough, she told the crowd prior to the walk.
“I had to get involved,” she said.
Yunghans, Northfield City Councilwoman Susan Korngut, and two victim survivors spoke. Marty Torpey, of Cape May, told the group how she lost her son, John, and Khadija Wright, spoke about losing her brother, Lorin.
Yunghans, a retired school librarian from Upper Township, explained that in her school district at Hess School in Mays Landing, there were “Code White” drills. Teachers and students learned what to do if there was a potential shooter. It is a drill, she said, that is in every school.
It can be so real. Someone, she recalled, would even go around and rattle the doorknobs to make it seem like there was an intruder.
It is something, Yunghans said, children should never have to learn about but have to in today’s society.
Gun violence is real, and it is everywhere, including in the schools, she emphasized.
“I think we live in a wonderful country and so many freedoms and one of the freedoms should be freedom from fear,” she said.
In addition to the walk across the Ninth Street Bridge, would be an orange hue across the bridge in the evening, as part of the orange symbol of the anti-gun violence rally throughout the weekend. Orange is a color that is supposed to signify recovery, Yunghans explained.
She thanked Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian for allowing the bridge to be lit in orange.
When the victim survivors spoke, the crowd was very attentive.
Torpey and her husband, Mike, adopted their son, John, in 1975 from Vietnam. He was raised with their two daughters. In 1991 he was accepted into college.
The following year, he was murdered in a robbery attempt, Marty Torpey said.
“He had a smile that lit up a room. He had friends, liked to bike ride, play baseball and taunt his two sisters,” Marty told the audience.
What killed their son was a combination of things, Marty told the marchers. “Greed. Hate. Pain. Poverty and a gun,” she said.
For Wright, whose brother, Lorin was killed in 1987, she continues to grieve.
“We must educate ourselves. We must stop the circle of violence,” she said.
Christine Piper, the head of Moms Demand Action, said although the group is relatively small, with about 20 volunteers who attend the meetings, there are more than 100 on the email list.
She hopes events such as this one will widen their membership to continue their important anti-violence message.
Emily Benson, 18, and her older sister, Carly, 23, both of Upper Township, are Ocean City High School graduates.
Emily is a second semester college student. Carly just got hired as a teacher in Cape May County. The two have different perspectives. But they both believe young people should not have to live in fear.
“Walking through the campus you think about school shootings. It always puts me on guard,” Emily said. “In college, it isn’t like in high school. You are by yourself more on campus.”
Her older sister agreed. But she also said as a teacher you get a totally different view of the situation.
“You start thinking about how it will impact the children. We have lockdown drills. I think how I would protect the kids,” Carly said. “Sometimes I think it is scarier for older people because kids are naïve.”
For Julia Hankerson, of Woodbine, who was one of the first participants to walk onto the footpath of the bridge and wave a sign to beeping motorists, joining the walk against gun violence was something she needed to do.
“I think it is really something so positive,” Hankerson said. “I don’t understand why people don’t register guns the same way they register cars. It is that simple.”