By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — During last night’s vigil to remember the 26 victims in last week’s Newtown, Conn. school massacre, Mayor William Lantigua announced plans for a gun buy-back program in this city, which is dealing with its own problems of violence.
“What happened in Newtown is more than a reason to join us in recovering weapons, so in a moment of passion, grief, or anger, people don’t commit such a heinous crime,” Lantigua said. He added, “We have to find a solution to prevent this tragedy from happening. Whatever I can offer, I’m more than ready to do so.”
Lawrence Police Chief John Romero is working with Lantigua on the logistics of the program. They have been in touch with the Haverhill Police Department, which recently had success with its own gun buy-back program. There, guns were brought to police and turned in with no questions asked. In exchange, the person received a $100 gift card for each weapon turned over.
Lantigua said some will argue the buy-back program means some may go unprosecuted for their crimes.
“Sometimes we don’t catch the criminal and don’t have the gun. But with this, at least we’d get the gun and it will not be used again,” Lantigua said.
Lantigua’s announcement was made during a prayer vigil at City Hall last night for the six adults and 20 boys and girls, all of whom were just 6 or 7 years old, killed at close by multiple rifle shots at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Authorities said the gunman, Adam Lanza, shot his mother four times in the head with a .22-caliber rifle and officials found her dead in bed, still in her pajamas. Lanza then went to the elementary school with guns he took from his mother’s house where he began the rampage. He then shot himself in the head when he heard police coming closer.
The Reverends Victor Jarvis, Joel Almono, Cecilio Perez and Ana Rita Torres led prayers as they were surrounded by residents, politicians and school children. Jarvis’ daughter, Elizabeth led those in attendance in singing “I ask for peace for my city. I ask for forgiveness for my city. I humble myself and look for you.” Elizabeth, assistant group leader at The Children’s Center in Methuen, said it was difficult to sing those words.
“I was devastated when I heard the noon. Out of all the possible victims, why choose those who are defenseless?” Elizabeth Jarvis said.
Almono, pastor of Grace Episcopal Church, said on Sunday congregations opened wide their doors so people could pray and try to make sense of the tragedy.
Rev. Ana Rita Torres, pastor of Lirio de Zion Church, prayed for the mothers and family members of those murdered.
“Give them strength, courage and may they become closer to your presence and love as they grieve. Give them the peace they deserve,” Torres said.
Cecilio Perez, pastor of Spanish Assembly of God prayed for members of the Lawrence Police Department and its chief.
“Give him wisdom, understanding and ideas on how to keep our city safe,” Perez said, praying in Spanish.
Natanael Mercedes, owner of Mercedes Baseball Academy, brought several of his members dressed in uniform and baseball caps.
“Our program is based on violence prevention, getting an education and being better at home and school,” Mercedes said.
The vigil ended with Jarvis asking those in attendance to hold hands as he led them in prayer.
“This is a sad night when the nation weeps for the mothers, teachers, and braved ones who put their lives on the line for the children,” Jarvis said. “Hopefully we’ll come together once again for a celebration. But we must stand together and not allow anything or anybody divide us. When we’re united, we can overcome any situation.”
Many youngsters said they felt like they had to be there.
Josue Barrera, 9, found out about the tragedy from his parents.
“I felt sad because their mothers will miss them and Christmas is coming and they’re not going to get any presents. I know they’re in heaven because they were good kids,” said Josue, a fourth-grader at Frost School.
Xavier De la Cruz attended the vigil after his martial arts class.
“So many kids died who were still in kindergarten and didn’t get to see more of life,” said Xavier, a student at the Guilmette School.