Note: The vigil in memory of the 31 victims of the Buffalo and Uvalde victims originally scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday at Veterans Park in Flagler Beach has been pushed to Saturday at the same time, due to inclement weather.
It wasn’t that long ago that then-Flagler Palm Coast High School student Tyler Perry organized a march across the Flagler Beach bridge to Veterans Park, where throngs of young people held up signs during that evening’s First Friday event: “We Cannot Protect Our Guns before We Protect Our Children,” signs with the names of the children massacred at Sandy Hook, signs with the names of the children just massacred at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, signs demanding what, in America, remains decidedly, proudly, brazenly impossible: “End Gun Violence.”
Because it hadn’t been so long ago that a vigil was organized in Flagler Beach to remember the 51 people mass-murdered by a homophobic man with guns at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a march and vigil repeated every year across the bridge and at Veterans Park, as it will be again, in Palm Coast’s Town center, the evening of June 12 during that weekend’s Flagler Pride celebration.
And because there really is not much time between massacres, laws and legislative indifference or inaction being what they are. There will always be a next one, and a next one, and a next, as there was within a span of 10 days, first in Buffalo, where an 18 year old killed 10 people, most of them Black, in a grocery store, then at Robb Elementary School in a Texas town about the size of a couple of Palm Coast neighborhoods, where an 18 year old wielding two assault rifles murdered 19 elementary school children and two teachers.
Flagler Beach resident and business owner Carla Cline had finished a work meeting when she got home and read the news from Uvalde. “I’m a Twitter junkie, so once I logged on, I started seeing it and was like, Oh my gosh,” Cline said. “And it kind of hit me, and then all of a sudden it just really–I just started crying. And then I woke up early in the morning and then you hear that the numbers are going up and then you see their faces. It’s ridiculous that this happens and it’s so frustrating that these people in charge are so terrible. I mean, it’s unbelievable how terrible, how stupid they are. ‘Doors.’ ‘We need one door.’ Give me a break.”
(Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz blamed the shooting on improper configurations in the school, saying there should be “one door into and out of the school and have that one door [with] armed police officers at that door.”)
Colleen Conklin, the Flagler Beach resident and school board member who’s hosted several town meetings in the wake of tragic events, had been working on a grant at her kitchen table. She hadn’t seen the news all day. At one point she picked her head up and noticed the screen. “It took my breath away and immediately was taken back to Sandy Hook, Parkland.” Conklin, who had been a teacher, even on ordinary days has difficulty mentioning Sandy Hook without getting emotional, as she did again today, talking about what she saw, and becoming “so angry, mad that it happened again. I can’t wrap my brains around it, and at the same time how many times is this going to happen before something is done? And again: I’m not saying it’s all about gun control. I believe that’s part of it. But it’s about mental health, it’s about the breakdown of the family, it’s about violent video games and virtual reality, it’s about a multitude of things.”
So when Conklin contacted Cline about a spreading the word of a vigil in Veterans Park to remember the victims of Buffalo and Uvalde, it was as if it were a connection already made.
The vigil will take place Friday evening at 8 p.m. at the park. There will be no speeches. There will be no march. Just the vigil, with candles or lighters or cell phones. Conklin describes it as completely impromptu and informal, not even wanting to see herself as an organizer, merely someone spreading the word, as it quickly has.
Conklin thought of it this morning when she saw “the father of the young girl who had gone to her honors award ceremony, and his interview was just gut-wrenching.” (Conklin was referring to a CBS News interview with Angel Garza, stepfather to Amerie Garza.)
“I just thought as a community I would hope we can come together to honor the lives not just of those in Texas but in Buffalo as well,” Conklin said. “No teacher, no staff person, no child should ever be entering a school building worried whether or not it could take place there. It should not be that way. And as a country we should not allow it to be that way.”
Cline doesn’t see a vigil as a symbolic act only. Her business is within earshot of the corner on State Road 100 and State Road A1A where almost every Friday a group of pro-Trump demonstrators have gathered for two hours, from 4 to 6 p.m., since before the 2020 election to brandish what used to include obscene signs about their opponents and other related messages. The obscenities have been toned down, but not the honking of approving drive-bys, which Cline could hear from her shop. So on two successive Fridays she decided to weave herself among the demonstrators and wave flags of her own–a rainbow flag with a peace sign, then “a giant garden flag with two flamingos on it that said ‘Be Flamazing.'”
It wasn’t a protest so much of an act of witnessing. “Why do they just get to stand up there and be unopposed. I’m just going to stand up there to fly my flag,” she said, by which she meant that it’s about taking action, no matter what the surroundings or the seeming pointlessness of the situation. It’s how she sees the vigil–as a call to younger people to have their presence and voice heard, and to let solidarity speak.
“When you feel helpless, it’s like it’s a way to give a hug and giving a bunch of people a hug that I will never meet and that I will never know,” Cline said. “This one is definitely different, because it’s actually like uniting people and saying, We have the ability to make change. We need to make change. We have to make change, and it’s like: do not let them let these people die in vain.”
The vigil will also include the ringing of a bell, or a gong, 31 times, once for each victim. “We cannot as a society become de-sensitized to these events,” Conklin said. “I know that is already happening, but we can’t allow that to happen.”