Sunnyside community mourns victims of Texas school shooting

Sunnyside vigil Uvalde Texas school shooting
Local kids, parents and community leaders gather at Lou Lodati Park in Sunnyside to rally against gun violence in schools. (Photo by Kevin Kiprovski)

Sunnyside parents and educators held a vigil Tuesday night, May 31, at Lou Lodati Park to honor the 19 elementary students and two teachers killed last week in Uvalde, Texas. 

Councilwoman Julie Won, the Sunnyside Parents Facebook group and the Sunnyside, Woodside Action Group (SWAG) worked together to host the remembrance, while calling on elected officials at every level of government to change gun laws. 

“As a new mom, listening to toddlers talk about school shooter drills where they stuff their bodies into cubbies or hide under desks breaks my heart,” Won said. “Ten years since Sandy Hook, nothing has changed to prevent the lives of children being slaughtered by a school shooter.”

Michelle Lee Nix, an organizer, said that the somber night was very emotional but necessary to help each other get through yet another tragedy.

“We heard a lot of families in Sunnyside and Woodside expressing their grief,” Nix said. “Since we all have families and so many schools in the neighborhood we wanted to help each other through it.”

Sunnyside vigil Uvalde Texas school shooting
Kids make signs saying “keep us safe” and “kids like fun not guns” at Sunnyside rally Tuesday, May 31. (Photo by Melissa Bair)

Ten years ago, the Sunnyside community came together to hold a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting, which took the lives of two people with close ties to the community. 

Nix said that the community is extremely frustrated that a decade later, they are still mourning children who have been senselessly massacred at school.

“Everyone’s just really angry that our kids are becoming so placid,” Nix said. “It doesn’t seem to bother them anymore and that’s really scary.”

Nix, fraught with emotion, said that she’s terrified by the thought of her own children not returning home from school one day. Nix has two kids — a sixth-grader and a 7-year-old daughter in second grade — who both attend the Ella Baker School in Manhattan. 

“You send them out to school, you pack them lunch, but you just don’t know if they’re going to come back,” Nix said. “I am so grateful to all the teachers for getting us through everything else and now they have to protect our kids.”

Lucia Diaz, a Sunnyside resident and P.S. 122 seventh-grader, said that this tragedy has affected her personally and said she couldn’t imagine “witnessing something like that or losing someone that close to you.” 

“Even though it was thousands of miles away, here in New York, it still affects me,” Diaz said. “Distance means nothing when lives are at stake. But I refuse to live in terror. I refuse to sit here in a sinkhole of panic.”

Diaz called for action to save the lives of her fellow students and millions of others.  

Organizers and attendees agreed to start a letter-writing campaign to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other electeds to pass the HR8 Bipartisan Background Check Act of 2021.

“A mom should never have to hesitate to send their child to school in fear that they’ll never return,” Won said. “We must strengthen gun control to protect our kids. I refuse to continue to normalize fear and trauma to students by teaching them a school shooting may happen any day and it’s up to you to stay alive. Go into a cubby or desk, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be lucky to not get shot.”