Church Erects a Cross for Each of Philly’s Gun Homicide Victims Last Year

"If we're patting ourselves on the back because there were only two hundred-and-some homicides last year, then we have a bigger problem than we thought we had," says parishioner.

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You probably aren’t familiar with the names Norberta Lopez, Branden Agnew, Timothy Artis or Megan Doto. And there’s no reason that you would be. Unlike the accidental death of Shane Montgomery, whose disappearance after a night of drinking in Manayunk led to international news coverage, the demises of those Philadelphians went largely unmemorialized, along with most of Philadelphia’s other homicide victims in 2014. But one Philadelphia church is trying to change that.

On Saturday, Overbrook Presbyterian Church installed more than 200 crosses on its lawn at the intersection of City and Lancaster avenues in the Overbrook Farms section of Philadelphia, each cross bearing the name of a 2014 Philadelphia gun homicide victim. The project is known as”Memorial to the Lost” and is an outreach of Heeding God’s Call, a Philadelphia non-profit describing itself as a “faith-based movement to prevent gun violence.”

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Church parishioner Jeff Bowker, seen here on Lancaster Avenue, spearheaded the initiative for the church. “If we’re patting ourselves on the back because there were only two hundred-and-some homicides last year, then we have a bigger problem than we thought we had,” said Bowker in an emotional address to the church earlier this month. The city had recently revealed that there were 248 homicide victims in 2014, with the vast majority of those being gun homicides. That’s down from 391 total homicides in 2007.

The installation, which was completed by 50 volunteers just in time for Martin Luther King Day, will remain in place at the church for three weeks before moving on to other churches in the region, explains Heeding God’s Call executive director Bryan Miller, who co-founded the organization on MLK Day in 2009. Miller’s brother, an FBI agent, was killed in 1994 by a man armed with a TEC-9.

“Dr. King was very clear: He deplored the prevalence of handguns in American society,” says Miller, who lives in Fairmount. “He knew how damaging it is to society in general, but particularly to urban communities and communities of color.”

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