Marked with the names of the dead, the T-shirts hung in rows outside a Washington church Saturday, just as the tombstones stand in Arlington National Cemetery.
Only here, the 155 gunshot victims fell during more personal battles last year and — ranging in age from 3 to 73 — are now part of the war against gun violence in the United States.
In its second year, the “Memorial to the Lost” tribute to gunshot victims in the Washington region began a two-week stint outside Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church, with a bugler playing taps and a small group reading the names of those whose tragedies have largely been forgotten since they occurred in 2014.
From there, the memorial that asks passersby to pray for the victims will move to at least 13 other locations in Washington, Virginia and Maryland before it is taken down in the fall, said Lisa Delity, a chief organizer.
“Each shirt is more than just a name,” said Delity, chair of Heeding God’s Call Greater Washington, a branch of the group that launched the idea in Philadelphia in 2013. “It’s a mother, a father, a brother, sister, grandfather and grandmother. All the people who were affected.”
The stories behind the T-shirts this year include that of Laila Miller, 3, who died in August in Fort Washington when her father, Frederick R. Miller, shot her at close range with a .38 Special revolver and slashed her neck with a knife. Frederick Miller died in a shootout afterward with Prince George’s County police. The memorial includes a T-shirt for Frederick Miller.
Laila’s was one of the 57 blue T-shirts in the memorial marking deaths in Maryland. So was her father’s.
Among the 75 white T-shirts signifying gun deaths in Washington were those of Keyonna Proctor, 24, and Oluremi K. Thomas, 36, who were found shot to death in January 2014 in the basement of a Columbia Heights rowhouse near Howard University. Thomas was found in bed and Proctor on the floor. Police, who suspect that the shooting was drug-related, have made no arrests.
One of 23 yellow Virginia shirts is for Ruthanne Lodato, 59, the Alexandria music teacher who was fatally shot at her doorstep in February 2014. Charles Severance, 54, who is accused of that and two other Alexandria gun killings, is expected to stand trial in October.
Another white T-shirt bears the name of James Brady, the former press secretary to President Ronald Reagan who with his wife launched a movement for stricter gun control laws in the country after he was shot in the head during John Hinkley Jr.’s 1981 assassination attempt against the president.
Brady’s death last August at age 73 was ruled a homicide, bringing new momentum to gun control advocates hoping to stem the roughly 31,000 deaths from gunshot wounds every year across the country.
“Our nation is addicted to gun violence,” the Rev. Molly Blythe Teichert, senior pastor at Chevy Chase Presbyterian, said during a brief ceremony Saturday. “It is an epidemic.”
The sight of all the T-shirts in rows moved some to tears, an effect Delity said she hopes can help “cut through the numbness” to gun violence in the region.
The memorial isn’t meant as a protest against guns as much as a reminder to “lock them up and secure them,” said Delity, whose brother, FBI Special Agent Michael John Miller, was fatally shot at the District’s police headquarters in 1994.
The memorial inspired some complaints from gun enthusiasts last year, Delity said. Also, just before Halloween, someone moved five of the T-shirts to a neighbor’s front lawn.
For survivors, the memorial fed a yearning to add meaning to the loss of their loved ones.
On Saturday, the family of Michelle Miller, 17, showed up with her T-shirt from last year’s memorial. The Rockville teen was shot in 2013 by Adam Arndt, her U.S. Army recruiter, in a murder-suicide.
“You just want to do something — march or get someone to change things,” said Michelle’s grandfather, Stan Miller, 80.
While Michelle’s mother, Pacita Miller, quietly looked at this year’s array of T-shirts, Stan Miller said he was recently moved to erect his own memorial to his granddaughter. In his Potomac back yard sits a large stone set in the garden with a camouflage cap and his granddaughter’s Army dog tags, he said.
“That’s where I go to talk to her,” Miller said. Pausing, he added: “She was my only granddaughter.”