In their shoes

At the Capi­tol, about 7,000 small pairs of shoes memorialize chil­dren lost to gun vi­o­lence since 2012

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARISSA J. LANG

About 7,000 pairs of footwear were placed by the Capi­tol as a memo­rial to chil­dren slain by guns since 2012.

At the edge of a sea of shoes Tues­day morn­ing out­side the Capi­tol, a lit­tle girl stood tee­ter­ing on the balls of her feet.

Eliana Malkoff, 3, wanted to run through the rows of ruby slip­pers, fuzzy boots, flip flops and sneakers. Her mother told her that this wasn’t a place to play.

The rea­son these shoes were here, Shawna Malkoff said, was se­ri­ous.

But like sev­eral other par­ents with young chil­dren who vis­ited the sprawl­ing dis­play, Malkoff couldn’t bring her­self to ex­plain the rea­son for it.

About 7,000 pairs of shoes sat on the south­east lawn of the Capi­tol as a memo­rial to chil­dren slain by guns since the mass shoot­ing in De­cem­ber 2012 at Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School in New­town, Conn.

Avaaz, a global ac­tivist net­work that or­ga­nizes cam­paigns in­volv­ing so­cial is- sues, so­licited do­na­tions from around the coun­try to fill the lawn with chil­dren’s shoes and send a mes­sage to Congress about the toll that gun vi­o­lence takes.

Ac­cord­ing to the non­profit Gun Vi­o­lence Archive, there have been 239 school shoot­ings na­tion­wide since it be­gan track­ing the shoot­ings about a year af­ter the Sandy Hook at­tack. It de­fines a school shoot­ing as any gun­fire on school prop­erty when stu­dents, fac­ulty or staff are on the site.

The group also says that more than 650 chil­dren have been killed or wounded by gun­fire this year.

A March 24 rally against mass shoot­ings and gun vi­o­lence will bring as many as 500,000 peo­ple to down­town Washington for the March For Our Lives rally, orga-

nized by sur­vivors of last month’s school shoot­ing in Park­land, Fla., that left 17 dead.

But thou­sands of chil­dren won’t be there, said Nell Green­berg, an Avaaz cam­paign di­rec­tor, be­cause they were killed.

“These should be kids. There should be kids in these shoes. But in­stead they’re just empty,” she said. “Ev­ery pair of shoes out here rep­re­sents a child who can’t march for them­selves any­more.”

Among them were her daugh­ter’s shoes.

Green­berg and other Avaaz vol­un­teers worked through the brisk wind just be­fore sun­rise Tues­day, pulling each pair from plas­tic bags and set­ting them in neat rows on the grass.

As they worked, Green­berg said, she no­ticed that sev­eral had come with mes­sages or items stuffed inside.

One fam­ily had put a con­tainer of play dough inside a pair of boots. Oth­ers rolled up notes and letters.

Inside a pair of shoes with an or­tho­pe­dic sup­port brace at­tached was a hand­writ­ten note: “Not all chil­dren can run.”

“That just broke me,” Green­berg said.

Tom Mauser, whose son, Daniel, was killed in the 1999 mas­sacre at Columbine High School, was among sev­eral who put the shoes of slain fam­ily mem­bers on dis­play.

Mauser, of Colorado, brought a pair of his son’s Reebok sneakers that he found in Daniel’s closet af­ter the at­tack.

In the past two decades, Mauser has be­come an ad­vo­cate for gun-con­trol mea­sures, trav­el­ing the coun­try to picket, protest and march.

He said he is dis­heart­ened that, so long af­ter his son’s death, he finds him­self do­ing much the same thing.

“We did this in Den­ver,” he said, ges­tur­ing to the rows of shoes. “We put shoes just like this on the steps of the state capi­tol — twice. I’m not shocked I have to keep do­ing this. I’m an­gry. But I’m not sur­prised.”

On his feet, Mauser wore the sneakers Daniel was wear­ing the day he was killed.

“I save these for spe­cial oc­ca­sions,” the fa­ther said. “I want these to last.”

This wasn’t the first time Avaaz had tack­led the is­sue of gun vio- lence with an eye-catch­ing dis­play.

The group was re­spon­si­ble for a re­cent protest tar­get­ing Sen. Marco Ru­bio (R-Fla.) with three bill­boards in­spired by the movie, “Three Bill­boards Out­side Ebbing, Mis­souri,” that said in bold, black letters on red screens: “Slaugh­tered in school.” “And still no gun con­trol?” “How come, Marco Ru­bio?” Or­ga­niz­ers said they hadn’t been ap­proached Tues­day by law­mak­ers or con­gres­sional staff, who were steps away. There were, how­ever, sev­eral peo­ple af­fected by gun vi­o­lence drawn in by the spec­ta­cle.

A mother from Park­land, Fla., was vis­it­ing the District with her fam­ily to es­cape the pain loom­ing over her home town when she hap­pened upon the shoes.

As she stared out at them, her voice shook.

“We all know peo­ple who were there,” Lau­rie Garey, 54, said of the shoot­ing at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School. “This blows my mind, think­ing about how all these kids. They were all there in their own lit­tle shoes when it hap­pened.”

Her two chil­dren, teenagers who at­tend a pri­vate school in the Park­land area, stood by as she showed off the words she had tat­tooed on her fore­arm last week: “Never again.”

Jonathan Kriyk, 20, and Bri­anne Wen­dol, 19, said the shoes felt per­sonal to them. Now stu­dents at Florida univer­si­ties, they were in mid­dle school when the Sandy Hook mas­sacre hap­pened and the re­al­ity of mass shoot­ings came lurch­ing into their con­scious­ness.

“It hits so close to home ev­ery time, and noth­ing changes,” said Wen­dol, who is ma­jor­ing in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Florida State Univer­sity. “I’m ter­ri­fied that one of these days it’s go­ing to hit right at home and it will be me or one of my si­b­lings.”

“We grew up in this,” added Kriyk, who stud­ies ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of South Florida. “This is our re­al­ity, and we’re tired of it. Some­thing needs to change.”

As they spoke, with heads bent against the gusts of wind, lit­tle Eliana leaned against her mother.

She was wear­ing pink snow boots.




Vol­un­teers fan out early Tues­day morn­ing to ar­range some of the thou­sands of pairs of footwear out­side the Capi­tol. Avaaz, a global ac­tivist net­work that or­ga­nizes cam­paigns in­volv­ing so­cial is­sues, so­licited do­na­tions from around the coun­try to fill the lawn with chil­dren’s shoes and try to send a mes­sage.

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