Community members held a vigil on Wednesday at the Gainesville Bridge Community Center in memory of Ajike “A.J.” Owens and other victims of gun violence.
Owens, 35, died exactly two months ago in Ocala when her neighbor, Susan Lorincz, 53, shot Owens through Lorincz’s front door. After four days, law enforcement arrested and charged Lorincz with manslaughter.
At Wednesday’s vigil, state Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, said Lorincz should have been arrested immediately. She also called the shooting a racist act from the white Lorincz against the African American Owens.
“We are here to call out those who dismiss blatant racism as the trigger of A.J.’s death,” Hinson said. “Let us set this record straight once again. A.J. was murdered by a racist woman who felt enabled by ‘stand your ground’, the recent permitless carry legislation and her own privilege to shoot an unarmed mother through her front door.”
Hinson said the state attorney should bring murder two and hate crime charges for the shooting.
Several community groups had members speak, including the Against All Odds movement, Beyond Grieving, the Greater Duval Neighborhood Association, M.A.M.A.’s Club, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and the Alachua County branch of the NAACP.
Speakers touched on the grieving process, legislation, the importance of voting and their own experiences with gun violence. The vigil included poems, a song, part of a play and an interpretive dance.
Chanae Jackson, a community organizer, listed the names of gun violence victims from across the country, including two killed in downtown Gainesville on Sunday.
At the close of the vigil, members gathered outside to light candles and sing before calling out the names of loved ones and friends killed by gun violence.
Moms Demand Action had forms to sign and encouraged donating to the Owens’ family.
Rebecca Darnell, legislative lead for Moms Demand Action, said the group continues educating on state gun laws, hoping to repeal the “Stand Your Ground” law that played a role in charging Lorincz along with the recent permitless carry law.
Darnell said education is a main part since people aren’t always aware of what the Legislature is discussing. She points to confusion at the state level where the permitless carry bill, which went into effect on July 1, passed through the state House, Senate and governor with the title of “Public Safety.”
She said local commissioners have taken the issue seriously and that education is increasing.
“I think Mayor Ward is very aware,” Darnell said. “This is a top priority for him. Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker—she’s one of the leaders of the summit that will occur next weekend. And so yes, I think that the awareness has been raised and certainly in Alachua County.”
The city of Gainesville is hosting a Gun Violence Prevention Summit this Sunday and Monday after declaring gun violence a public health crisis earlier this year. However, city commissioners have also noted that the state legislature has blocked municipalities from taking many actions on the issue.