Wear Orange organizers prepare display to remember gun violence victims

Robin Neipp cuts out orange hearts, representing lives lost to gun violence in Massachusetts, to be placed on Greenfield Common.

Robin Neipp cuts out orange hearts, representing lives lost to gun violence in Massachusetts, to be placed on Greenfield Common. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Deborah Queiros, of Belchertown, cuts out orange hearts, representing lives lost to gun violence in Massachusetts, to be placed on Greenfield Common.

Deborah Queiros, of Belchertown, cuts out orange hearts, representing lives lost to gun violence in Massachusetts, to be placed on Greenfield Common. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

A box of orange hearts represent lives lost to gun violence in Massachusetts.

A box of orange hearts represent lives lost to gun violence in Massachusetts. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Volunteers met inside the Franklin Community Co-op’s community room at 170 Main St. in Greenfield on Wednesday evening to cut out orange hearts, representing lives lost to gun violence in Massachusetts, to be placed on Greenfield Common.

Volunteers met inside the Franklin Community Co-op’s community room at 170 Main St. in Greenfield on Wednesday evening to cut out orange hearts, representing lives lost to gun violence in Massachusetts, to be placed on Greenfield Common. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 05-03-2024 7:00 PM

GREENFIELD — Hadiya Pendleton spent part of Jan. 21, 2013, marching in President Barack Obama’s second inaugural parade. After the high school student’s life was cut short in a drive-by shooting eight days later, her friends decided to remember her by wearing orange — the color hunters wear in the woods to protect themselves and others from errant gunfire.

This evolved into Wear Orange, a tradition that started on June 2, 2015, which would have been Hadiya’s 18th birthday. The national gun violence awareness day is commemorated by people wearing orange and making orange decorations to honor the 120 people killed by guns in the United States every day. Local volunteers plan to hold their annual event on the Greenfield Common on June 7.

“This is a day where it’s not about politics, it’s about the loss,” organizer Robin Neipp said.

The past couple of years, participants have tagged the trees with orange hearts inscribed with the names of gun violence victims. The goal this year is to place at least 255 hearts to represent the average number of Massachusetts fatalities from gun violence a year — of those, 56% of gun deaths are suicides. According to the Massachusetts Medical Society, 557 people are wounded by guns in this state every year — and Massachusetts has the lowest rate of gun violence in the United States.

“I mean, that’s crazy,” Neipp said.

On Wednesday, Neipp organized a get-together at the Franklin Community Co-op’s community room at 170 Main St., where a few volunteers cut out orange hearts and wrote down victims’ names to be displayed on the Greenfield Common between 6 and 7:30 p.m. on June 7.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48,830 people died from gun-related injuries in the United States in 2021. And not only are gunshot victims often plagued with lifelong injuries and trauma, but Neipp, a public health nurse, said the cost to the American health care system is also enormous. Gun deaths and injuries cost the state $3.5 billion, of which $85.4 million is paid by taxpayers.

“If they didn’t have a gun in their hand, they couldn’t shoot,” she said. “And I know you can’t take away all guns, but certainly we can work toward legislation that makes it really hard for a 16-year-old to be walking around with a gun.”

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Neipp, Belchertown resident Deborah Queiros and Amherst resident Elisabeth Cantor chatted as they cut out orange hearts and talked about the gun violence epidemic. Queiros mentioned she visited Tampa Riverwalk in Florida one day before there was a shooting there. Neipp said she is acquainted with a woman — now with the gun violence prevention organization Moms Demand Action — whose friend and classmate was killed in the 1992 shooting at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, which also killed a professor.

The three women said they were pleased with the recent involuntary-manslaughter convictions of James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of Ethan Robert Crumbley, a 15-year-old boy who killed four students and injured seven people with their handgun at Oxford High School in Michigan in 2021.

Cantor said the convictions are “going to shift the tide a little bit.”

More information about Wear Orange is available at wearorange.org.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.