Because of a gun, Angel Bermudez’s father was shot and killed three days before his son’s 12th birthday.
Because of a gun, the boy who had been looking forward to celebrating that week with his father at their favorite water park instead stood, immovable, by his casket.
Because of a gun, Angel’s 15-year-old brother, Justin, stared at the front door after they returned home from burying their father, also named Angel Bermudez, and cried out for the man who would never return. And when he graduated from eighth grade months later, he wrote on his graduation cap, “Papi, I did it for you!!”
Because of a gun, their sister Angeliz has been haunted by her father’s last moments on Oct. 11, 2017, when the 36-year-old was gunned down in his car outside a Kensington store. Their mother, Jessica Vega, searching and struggling herself, reminded her daughter what the doctors at the hospital said: “The good news is that he did not suffer.” In December, the daughter cried out again for her father, this time after giving birth to her first child, a daughter she named in his honor, Angeliah.
Because of a gun, Angel stopped talking at school. And when teachers called his mother, he admitted to her that he was afraid that if he spoke, he would cry, and if he cried, he might never stop. Then one day he grabbed onto his mother and cried for so long, she feared he was right.
There are so many Angels in Philadelphia “because of a gun.” So many that the Peace and Social Justice Club at Parkway Center City Middle College, in collaboration with March for Our Lives Philadelphia, invited students from across the city to use the phrase as a starting point to share the impact gun violence has had on their lives
One by one they took to a small stage Monday in the middle of the Girard College armory during the school’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
Because of a gun, Ashley Marie Soto said, she lost a friend last March, another in July, another in August, and two more in November.
“I’m tired of wondering who might be next," she said, "because of a gun.”
Alison Fortenberry was only in fourth grade the first of many times her schools were locked down because of a nearby shooting.
“Because of a gun, I’ve lost the safe spaces in my life," she said. "But because of our gun culture, it doesn’t seem to really matter.”
She’s not wrong.
Because of so many guns in Philadelphia, while the students shared their essays, my phone buzzed with a police alert about a 17-year-old who had been shot that very morning.
“The victim is listed in critical condition,” it read. “No arrest at this time.”
Because of so many guns, no one should hold their breath that someone will be held accountable in a city where the majority of shootings and homicides go unsolved, including the murder of Angel’s father.
When Angel’s mother asked if he wanted to participate, the once happy-go-lucky boy surprised everyone by saying yes — if his mother would help him write it and someone else would read it.
On Monday morning, Angel took to the stage as a Parkway student, Keshan Allen, read his essay.
“Because of a gun my father was murdered 3 days before my 12th Birthday and I say Birthday because I won’t ever have a Happy Birthday,” Angel wrote.
“Because of a gun me and my brothers and sisters will never be the same again.”
“Because of a gun I lost the person that meant the world to me.”
The crowd listened as Angel, his face cocooned in a hoodie, looked down at a photograph of his father. For a brief moment, he shut his eyes tight.