AURORA, Colo. (AP) — Survivors of mass shootings in Aurora and Connecticut were among those gathered Friday at Cherry Creek State Park to honor those killed in the massacre at an Aurora movie theater a year after the attack.
Vigil participants read a list of names of those killed in recent gun violence around the nation and talked about the pain of losing loved ones as they called for strict federal gun control laws.
“Why wait any longer?” asked Carlee Soto, whose sister was killed at the elementary school rampage in Newtown, Conn. “The time for change is now.”
The scene was somber, even as gun rights activists stood silently nearby at a counter rally holding signs to rebut the appeals for firearms restrictions.
“We want the families of the victims to know that we are sorry for their loss,” said Alicia Perez, a Colorado organizer with Gun Rights Across America.
Perez went on to say that gun rights supporters simply felt compelled to oppose calls for new gun laws, which they see as an infringement on Second Amendment rights.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was a sponsor of Friday’s tribute rally. Perez’s group criticized the association, saying its members were using tragedy for political gain.
Shortly before the survivors’ vigil, a gun rights activist at the counter rally tried to move into position behind the lectern with a signs that read “No More Names.” Rob Blancken also had a sign that said, “Tell billionaire Mayor Bloomberg to stay the hell out of Colorado.” He was eventually instructed to move by an armed state parks ranger.
The victims’ advocates, meanwhile, kept up their calls for tighter restrictions on gun sales and for universal background checks.
“I think that Coloradans get it, that something must change,” said Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was killed in the theater.
Colorado has been the only state outside the East Coast to ratchet back gun rights in reaction to mass shootings, and a federal push for new restrictions failed in Congress.
Stephen Barton, who was wounded in the Aurora shooting, said, “You shouldn’t wait until it affects you to start caring about it.”
“I never thought I would ever be affected by gun violence personally,” he added.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns said participants will read the names of about 2,500 people who have been killed by gunfire since Dec. 14, when a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The Aurora rally came almost a year to the day after 12 people were killed and 70 others were wounded, some paralyzed, in a July 20, 2012, attack at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
The victims’ names will be read until 12:38 a.m. Saturday, the moment that the shootings began in the theater last year.
Remembrance events planned continued Saturday included an early morning memorial service and a host of volunteer civic works, music, arts and even meditation. Aurora officials say they wanted to promote healing one year to the day after a gunman plunged the Denver suburb into anguish.
By Dan Elliott, AP Writer (© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)