By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – A homecoming bow tie, a little basketball and a toy car and a plane.
It wasn’t difficult for Angel Alire to decide what would be the perfect items to commemorate her son. He was a starting point guard for his high school basketball team, he put all his heart and a lot of his money into his sports car and he was close to getting his driver’s license.
Devon Trey Heyborne, 22, was killed on a Friday evening in April after opening the door to his apartment and being hit by gunfire. He is among nearly 100 people killed in Albuquerque so far this year, setting another grim record for the city as it grapples with a wave of crime that spans years.
Alire is among Albuquerque mothers and other family members who will add to what organizers hope one day will become a permanent memorial in the nation’s capital. It’s hard to say, but the 46-year-old mother of three has said she wants to be the voice for her youngest son and for change in the criminal justice system.
“I just want to spread the word so that something can happen, so other families never have to feel this,” she said. “But even since he passed away, look how many more there have been.”
The Gun Violence Memorial Project includes four homes built from 700 glass bricks to represent the average number of people lost to homicides, suicides and accidental shootings each week in the United States. Each glass block displays the name of a person. Inside, the objects tell the story behind this name.
Launched in Chicago in 2019, the Gun Violence Memorial was inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt which debuted in the 1980s. The Gun Violence Memorial is currently on display in a museum in Washington, DC, in as part of an exhibition that will run until September 2022.
The organizers call it “an active and living memorial” because artifacts from all over the country are continually being collected and added to greenhouses.
Project volunteers will stop in New Mexico’s largest city from November 5-7 to collect items from families who have lost loved ones. More fundraising events are planned this month in Massachusetts and New York.
In Albuquerque, the number of shootings in which people were injured has increased by almost 16% compared to the same period last year. Law enforcement has recorded around 250 shootings so far this year, including more than three dozen accidental shootings. Most of the victims are men between the ages of 20 and 30.
The mayor signed a decree last week creating a task force to focus on gun violence. He and other officials call it a public health crisis.
“Gun violence is the main factor in increasing crime in our city,” Police Chief Harold Medina said last week. “This task force is going to help us better understand the underlying causes so that law enforcement can stop acting like a band-aid and we can really tackle the challenges people face.”
Alire, the police chief and others have reported problems within the criminal justice system including a revolving door and lax consequences for repeat offenders.
In the case of Alire’s son, the man accused of his death was believed to be under house arrest on unrelated charges and monitored by GPS. She said she learned that the surveillance was only carried out Monday through Friday during office hours.
Hardworking and beautiful, that’s how Alire described her son, saying he would never miss an opportunity to visit his grandparents and help them with housework and shopping. Alire said her son also called her “about 20 times a day,” asking her for advice on everything from cooking the roast to cleaning methods.
Her cell phone is full of pictures and videos of Devon.
“I feel disappointed with our system and with our condition,” Alire said. “The systems that are supposed to protect us are not working.
She’s having trouble sleeping now, and it was one of her late-night online browsing sessions where she learned about the memorial project. Seeing all those glass bricks made an impact.
“I just thought it was such an amazing visual for people to see the number of lives taken each week due to gun violence,” she said. “I felt like there was so much going on in New Mexico that I wanted to bring him here and be able to begin the healing process among all of us who have lost someone.”
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