Holly Walker hammered a wooden cross bearing the name of her almost-nephew, Khalil Gibson, into the grass in front of Camden City Hall on Monday afternoon.
The 19-year-old’s marker and one for Jewel Manire, 18, were the latest in a field of 50 crosses, each painted in a unique way, that commemorate the 50 individuals killed in the city this year. The teenagers were fatally wounded Saturday in a car shooting that left three other young passengers in critical condition. (Click HERE for story.)
Gibson was “chipper,” “very cheery,” and “one of the funniest people I know,” said Walker, who called herself his aunt because she is so close to his mother.
The crosses represent “50 acts of absolute senselessness,” said Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson, who attended the somber ceremony arranged by the group Camden Stop Trauma on People (STOP).
“We can’t allow ourselves to become desensitized,” Thomson told the crowd of about 30 people, including relatives and close family friends of Gibson.
Though he didn’t share details of the investigation, Thomson said the shooting had not been a gang attack or a drug deal gone bad.
"Not one individual in that car had lived a life that anyone could have predicted” would end how it did, he said.
Fr. Jud Weiksnar of St. Anthony of Padua Church, Msgr. Michael Doyle of Sacred Heart Church, and Fr. Jeff Putthoff, executive director of the Camden nonprofit Hopeworks, who have been involved with STOP, prayed for the victims in front of the crosses.
The growing display is meant to be a visual representation of the mounting violence in Camden. The number of homicides there could surpass the record of 58 in 1995 by the year’s end.
“There’s a perception that poor people don’t suffer” when their loved ones are taken from them, “and it’s totally, totally false,” Doyle said.
If three people are murdered in New York’s Central Park, it’s worldwide news, he said. When those deaths are in Camden, it’s seen by outsiders as normal, he said.
“Their son’s or daughter’s blood is on a sidewalk in Camden,” Doyle said of the survivors.
“How do you get over that? You don’t. You die with that, broken-hearted.”