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Jacksonville residents denounce gun violence at vigil for Parkland shooting victims

Statewide vigils remember 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Vigils were held around the state Monday to honor the 17 lives lost in the South Florida school shooting.

In downtown Jacksonville, community members gathered Monday evening at a candlelight vigil outside Bethel Baptist Institutional Church's old sanctuary, following the massacre Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Nearly 200 people -- including parents, teachers and students -- came together to remember the 17 victims killed at the Parkland school.

The message from attendees and speakers about gun violence was clear: Enough is enough.

"The violence has to stop," Jacksonville resident Ethelyn Wiggins said. "They're just shooting people and not caring about lives. They're not valuing life. No one's life is valued."

On the steps of the church, speakers told the crowd it's time to advance a movement to end senseless shootings.

"What happened at Stoneman Douglas High School is the worst nightmare for any teacher. I've had a lot of students since Wednesday being very concerned and very scared about it," teacher Michael Steineheardt said. "It was important to me to let my students know about this event."

Many of the people who attended the vigil were Jacksonville high school students, including 16-year-old Isaiah Maas, who read the names of the people killed at Stoneman Douglas.

"I think it's terrifying that we live in a world where things like this happen," said Maas, who attends Paxon School for Advanced Studies. 

Other teenagers at the vigil said the mass shooting last week has sparked a movement of change.

"My generation is finally at the age where we can be doing this," 17-year-old Scott Hall said. "Unlike before, with the other tragedies like this, we were really young and unable to comprehend it as much. But now that we are older, I'm proud that we are having this movement."

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Parents at the vigil said thoughts and prayers are not enough to end mass shootings, and action needs to be taken.

"I'm a Christian and I definitely go to God first in prayer about these situations and ask Him to intervene," parent Renee Hall said. "But at the same time, I also know it takes hands and feet on the ground here on earth to make that change as well."

7-year-old boy killed in the crossfire of a gun battle Sunday night in front of a Durkeeville home was also in the hearts and minds of those attending the vigil.

“It’s just tragic," Hall said. "I can’t image the heartbreak of the family. I’m definitely praying for them and thinking about them and thinking we have to do something.”

WATCH: Vigil remembers school shooting victims, 7-year-old Jacksonville boy killed

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and others addressed both the mass shooting and Sunday's shooting that claimed the life of Tashawn Gallon. 

"It's a tragedy that a 7-year-old lost his life. It's unacceptable and we can't tolerate mass shooting and killings anywhere in this country. For a 7-year-old to die, it's sad. It's a tragedy," Brown said. "I think, together, we can do better. And that's what the young people are saying: 'Enough is enough.' No more prayers. We need action."

The vigil at Bethel was one of many organized by the Florida PTA, the largest statewide volunteer association working exclusively on behalf of children.

Twenty-two candlelight vigils were held Monday evening in Florida, including one that took place at the Alachua County Public Schools office in Gainesville

Earlier Monday, St. Augustine residents had the chance to voice their concerns at an event called "Enough is Enough" at Davenport Park, where adults wrote letters to legislators and children and families penned cards of sympathy to the victims of the massacre in Parkland.

On Sunday night, Pastor Tim Cole of West Friendship Baptist Church led a prayer circle outside the Duval County School Board building on the Southbank. He wanted to offer hope to the staff, students and parents in Duval County.

He said, unfortunately, bad things happen, but people need to be prepared.

“I planned it because it was well-needed," Cole said. "We need prayer. They've already taken prayer out of school and I think that's another reason why things are happening now."

A GoFundMe account has been created to benefit those affected by the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. 


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