By MADDY VITALE
Hundreds of people marched across the Ninth Street Bridge in Ocean City on Saturday to take a stand against gun violence. Marchers from all ages wanted to make it clear that assault weapons should be banned, that no child should die and no more innocent lives should be taken.
March For Our Lives events were held throughout the country Saturday. A mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24 that left 19 children and two teachers dead at the Robb Elementary School prompted a series of rallies across the nation.
Signs held high read, “Ban assault weapons. Not books.” “Guns Don’t Discriminate” and “March For Our Lives.”
Cars honked their horns and waved in recognition of the marchers.
The participants walked to the Welcome Center from the Ocean City side of the Ninth Street Bridge and down to a park afterward.
Then speakers from gun violence survivors to officials and political candidates spoke of the need to stop the gun violence and call for a ban on assault weapons.
For Emma Johnson, 32, of Somers Point, it was important that she take her 8-month-old son, Wilder, with her to the march.
“It’s just common sense that kids should not go to school afraid to die and parents shouldn’t be afraid to send their kids to school,” Johnson said. “We have a while before my son goes to school. I don’t want it to be like it is today.”
Stefany Mayz, organizer of the Ocean City march, is an Egg Harbor Township married mother of two young children. She wanted to hold the march in Ocean City because it is a place she holds dear to her heart. She grew up going to Ocean City for vacations and her aunt lives in the resort.
Mayz wanted to take a stand.
Mayz, 33, said it really hit her when the schoolchildren were shot in Texas. She and her husband, William Lees, have a 6-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter.
“My initial goal was to march in solidarity with the D.C. March For Our Lives and express to our elected officials that we want to see action now,” Mayz said.
Before the march began, friends Marybeth Grotti, of Milmay, and Jerri Nelson, of Vineland, talked about what the march meant to them.
“We need change,” Grotti said. “My daughter is a new teacher. She talks about the active shooter drills in the Vineland public schools.”
Nelson also works in the Vineland public schools. “I talked to my 13-year-old grandson. He said there is no need for people to have AR-15s. No one wants to take a person’s rights away. You can have a gun, just not that one, just not an assault weapon,” she said.
Sheryl Fields, of Ventnor, a retired social worker, joined husband and wife, Joe Giordano and Kathy Thomas, of Brigantine, for the march.
Thomas is a retired high school principal in Philadelphia.
The trio held up signs at the base of the bridge as cars zipped by.
“I’m not against hunting. You could do all of that,” Thomas said, adding that it just should not be done with assault weapons.
No civilian should possess an assault weapon was the resounding theme of the event.
After the march, participants went across the street to a park where several speakers talked about the need for change.
Mayz stepped up to the podium and said this, “We are here today to send a message that we are not waiting any longer. We are here today to demand that our children go to school and come home again.”
Speakers included Charlene Hoverter, of Ocean Township. She is from Moms Demand Action, and she is also a gun violence survivor.
Cape May County Democratic Chairman Dan Kurkowski also gave some remarks. Tim Alexander, a Democratic congressional candidate for South Jersey’s Second District, spoke out against gun violence and the need for change in laws to strengthen gun laws.
College students also spoke, such as Daria Gordon from Students Demand Action.
Hoverter spoke of her sister, Diane Mokos Kriz, a nurse midwife who was shot to death in Chicago in a robbery on July 19, 1986. She was 46 years old and was the mother of four girls.
Hoverter recalled her mother handing over her sister’s bloody glasses and asking that she wash them.
All she kept thinking was she had her sister’s glasses and her sister was never coming home again.
“I belong to the club that nobody wants to be in,” Hoverter said of the gun violence.
Since Uvalde, there have been more mass shootings throughout the country.
“We should be outraged at every single death. I am grief stricken that gun violence is the number one cause of death for our children,” Hoverter said.
Alexander urged the crowd to reach out to their elected officials to emphasize the need for stronger gun laws.
The retired captain from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, who went on to become a civil rights attorney, said, “I’ve seen the carnage that weapons do.”