by Deacon Tom Picciano
SUN contributing writer
BINGHAMTON — About a mile from where 14 people died in a shooting on Friday, April 3, more than 1,000 gathered Sunday night in their memory.
Police said 41-year old Jiverly A. Wong entered the American Civic Association office on Front Street where he killed 13 people and wounded four others before taking his own life. Most of the victims were killed in the classroom where they were learning English as they were preparing to become citizens.
The memorial service, held at West Middle School, just across the street from St. Thomas Aquinas Church, was planned by Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy.
“We are broken, O God. We are broken,” said the Rev. Douglas Taylor, of the Unitarian Univeralist Church. “Death and violence is the reason that brought us together in sorrow, in anger, anxious grief and in loss. Each of us has been touched. Some in a small way, others in overwhelming way.”
Rev. Taylor continued in prayer: “Oh God grant us the courage to reject vengeance, the courage to choose to heal what is broken and to redeem what cannot be healed, to rebuild ourselves as a community of strength and hope that we will be known not by our loss or by the violence of a moment, but rather by our loving response.”
The killings that made world news shocked Broome County and the City of Binghamton, where there was just one murder in all of last year.
“It’s affected us all in one or another. But all of us felt the pain and suffering,” said Mohammed Hassim. “Surely us coming together this evening is a manifestation of the unity of mankind.” Hassim noted that the memorial service set an example.” All the community coming together never before in the history of Binghamton it must not end today.”
“The Earth has no pain that heaven cannot heal,” prayed Rev. Arthur Jones. “We need you in a real and desperate way. Lord we need healing. Heal us, touch us, and love us”
Southern Region Vicar, Father John Putano offered one of the concluding prayers.
Father Putano said, “Good and gracious God, we gather this evening a people of faith struggling to understand this senseless killing of innocent people. We look to you for courage and strength so we can support one another, to show our love for all those affected by this tragedy.
“Relieve the suffering of the wounded, of the families and friends of victims who died and those who survive. Grant them peace of mind and a renewed faith and your protection.
“Protect us from the violence of others. Keep us safe from the weapons of hate and restore to us tranquility and peace.”
Names of the victims were flashed on a screen during the service. They had come from seven different countries to begin a new life in the U.S. Fourteen pink and white flower arrangements stood in their memory.
There was music at the service as well, including “Amazing Grace” sung by everyone present. A community choir, which practiced just an hour before the service, sang “Draw the Circle Wide”, written by Gordon Light.
“Draw it wider still. Let this be our song. No one stands alone.
“Standing side by side. Draw the circle, draw the circle wide.”
That circle had to draw wide hundreds of people gathered in front of the school with candles. When all had left the building, each flame was lifted high and no one stood alone.