Missoula City Council remembers victims of gun violence; speaks their names, numbers

Julie Merritt

Missoula City Council members and Mayor John Engen remembered the victims of gun violence in America Monday night, including the 11 Virginia Beach city workers and a contractor who died in the nation’s latest mass shooting.

The numbers are startling, council president Bryan Von Lossberg said, quoting from Engen’s proclamation of National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

In America, “50 women are shot to death by intimate partners in an average month,” the proclamation read. “Firearms are the second leading cause of death for American children and teens. Nearly 1,700 children and teens are killed with guns in the United States every year.”

“Sometimes we become numb to statistics, but we can’t let ourselves get that way,” Von Lossberg said. “Those numbers should stop all of us in our tracks.”

Councilwoman Julie Merritt drew attention to an awareness event planned from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday by the Missoula chapter of Moms Demand Action “to honor victims, survivors and communities like ours who have been affected by gun violence.”

Planned at the carousel in Caras Park, that event will include remarks by Engen and a survivor of gun violence, as well as informational tables on gun safety.

“In light of recent events in our community and in Virginia Beach, near where I grew up, I think it’s more important than ever that we publicly commit to reducing gun violence,” Merritt said. “I thank the mayor for his commitment to this issue.”

Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer and his wife Lindsey at the University of Utah Hospital, shortly before their departure for Montana. (University of Utah Hospital)

Merritt noted the “amazing outpouring of support” for Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer and Stevensville resident Casey Blanchard in the two and a half months since they were shot during ambushes in Missoula and Evaro.

Remember, too, she said, the “young man whose life was cut short” during the same incident, Shelley Hayes. “This tragedy will impact his young daughter, and his friends and family, for the rest of their lives.”

And do not forget the fourth victim of the March 15 shooting spree, Merritt said. Julie Blanchard was shot as well, and will never again be the same.

In designating National Gun Violence Awareness Day, Engen reminded the audience that Americans are 25 times more likely to be murdered with guns than are people in other developed countries.

Missoula City Council president Bryan Von Lossberg

And the connection to suicide is strong and significant, particularly in the West. Nationwide, 62 percent of firearm deaths are suicides.

Von Lossberg thanked Moms Demand Action for their resilience in “taking a topic that was taboo to discuss, particularly in the West, and help make it a difficult but a conversation that we, step by step, become more capable of having as a community and as a state and as a country.”

Last Friday’s massacre in Virginia Beach seemed particularly close to home, Merritt said, not only because of her involvement with city government here, but because she grew up near where the shootings occurred.

Remember the names of the victims, she said, reading the list aloud:

Laquita Brown

Tara Welch Gallagher

Mary Louise Crustinger Gayle

Alexander Mikhail Gusev

Katherine Nixon

Richard Nettleton

Christopher Kelly Rapp

Ryan Keith Cox

Joshua O. Hardy

Michelle Langer

Robert Williams

Herbert Snelling