Moms hold vigil for Sandy Hook victims in Western Springs

WESTERN SPRINGS – Avielle Richman watched from inside a picture frame as 30 strangers huddled in the snow under a gray morning sky to pray for her and the 25 others. 

Ryan Scofield was driving Dec. 14, 2012, when he heard that Richman, 6, the only child of two of his friends from Newtown, Conn., was shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School, along with 19 other students and six staff members.

“I’ve never stopped thinking about them,” Scofield said. “I think about her parents every single day.”

Saturday morning, Scofield held a small hinged frame with two pictures of Richman while honoring the Sandy Hook victims one year after the shooting. About 30 people, including U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, gathered on the Tower Green as a bell rang 26 times at nearby All Saints Episcopal Church and tears joined the snowflakes dropping to the ground. 

“You just can picture your own kids, and it’s just heartbreaking,” said Nicole Chen, a Western Springs resident active in Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an organization founded the day after the shooting that advocates for stronger gun-control laws. “You just put yourself in the parents’ shoes. It’s just devastating.”

Chen, whose kids are 7 and 5, talked and cried with other moms while dropping their kids off at school in the weeks following the tragedy last year. In February, they started meeting at each others’ homes and eventually joined Moms Demand Action, which pressured Starbucks to ban guns from stores in states with concealed and open carry laws. 

Over the past year, Chen has attended gun-control and gun-safety rallies, marched in parades and lobbied state legislators on multiple trips to Springfield. 

“When we marched in the La Grange Pet Parade, people cheered and stood up,” said Chen, who organized Saturday’s vigil. “That really meant a lot and we really felt that we were bringing the issue out of the shadows.”

La Grange resident Allison Koppel met other moms now involved with Moms Demand Action at a town hall meeting facilitated by Lipinski after the shooting. This week, Koppel held a fundraiser at her house, asking neighborhood moms to each bring $26. She plans to send a big card signed by all the moms and $1,034 to the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, a nonprofit created to support those affected by the shooting and to prevent future school shootings. 

Lipinski’s chief of staff in Washington, D.C., is from Newtown and updates him on how the community is grieving, which for some has involved campaigns to save future kids from similar tragedies. Richman’s parents, both scientists, set up a foundation to fund brain research to better understand why shooters act out violently. 

Despite across-the-board support for increased mental health research and awareness programs, Lipinski isn’t optimistic legislators will unite on the polarizing issue of gun control. 

“What I thought was going to happen, as I think most people did, was to improve background checks. … And we have not even seen movement on that at all,” Lipinski said. “I’m hopeful that something can still happen, but nothing did in the past year. It’s hard to really see anything changing unless there’s another tragic incident like this.”