Published Date Written by Noelle Barrett
Moved by tragic deaths from gun violence, a crowd of people marched from a cemetery on Lincoln Street to the Steelton Borough Building on Saturday, March 15, many of them carrying signs that read, “demand action to end gun violence” and “background checks save lives,” and homemade posters with drawings of guns with red lines through them.
Chants of “No more violence” echoed through the crowd. Marchers from the Steelton Elks Steppers pounded their drums like a beating heart. Speakers spoke, and songs were sung.
But what happened in the silence spoke loudest.
Tears streaming down the faces of men, women and children carrying signs and wearing shirts plastered with different faces – many young – of those who were taken too soon. The crowd of more than 100 linking hands in prayer with friends, family and strangers, all connected by the murders of their loved ones. A flurry of hands jetted into the air as Terry Slade asked who has lost a child to gun violence.
Slade understood because he joined the heart-wrenching club of parents who lost their children five months ago. His son, Teddy Slade, died five months ago after accidentally shooting himself in the leg, according to authorities. The gun he harbored was illegal, and that night placed a dismal cloud over Terry Slade’s life forever.
And yet on Saturday the sky was as blue as a sky could be, filling the somber morning with hope. The march against gun violence started where the journey began for many who lost a loved one – at a cemetery.
Standing at William Howard Day Cemetery, Terry Slade found the setting very fitting.
“This is where they all end up,” Slade said. “I started this because of my son, Teddy, but it’s about everybody … We have to do better.”
And part of doing better is advocating for sensible legislation and education, Slade said.
Among the speakers during the march and rally were Steelton Mayor Tom Acri, Highspire Mayor John Hoerner, State Rep. Patty Kim, Harrisburg Police Chief Tom Carter and Swatara Twp. Police Chief Jason Umberger, who vowed to work together for better legislation and programs.
“If we think there are only certain communities that have this problem, we’re wrong,” Hoerner said. “It’s going to take us all to stop this.”
Carter and Umberger are working together to organize an amnesty day to educate and encourage people to turn over illegal firearms, Carter told the crowd.
“The people of Steelton have spoken. They’re tired of it. We’re all tired of it,” Carter said. “Every day when I go to work, I pray…There is a Psalm, ‘No weapon formed against me shall ever prosper.’ I want to share that inner prayer and Psalm for any child out here.”
Both Hoerner and Acri, members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, encouraged the crowd to not sit in silence.
“We’re asking all of you, all parents, everybody, please don’t be afraid to talk to your kids about guns. Don’t be afraid to see if they have guns,” Acri said. “It’s the only way we’re going to save our children, or we’ll continue to kill our children.”
For many, the march wasn’t just about making a statement and to fight against gun violence. For those whose loved ones were taken so abruptly, the event was a way to grieve, to find solace, and to remember and honor.
For Joseph Seegars Sr., the pain was all too real as he walked past his son’s gravesite before the march began. Five people were struck when a man opened fire outside a bar in November 2006. His son, Joseph Jr., was killed, and Seegars’ stepson, niece and two nephews were injured.
“In the years since my son passed, I have never marched,” Seegars said. “I went to a rally shortly after, but it was too painful. This time, I said, ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to march.’”
The man responsible for the death was sentenced to 14 years, a far cry from closure in Seegars’ eyes. Now the memories and small reminders are all Seegars has left.
“I remember when my son was, probably, 3 years old, we saw three deer on a tree line, and he said, ‘Daddy, look at those big dogs,’ ” Seegars said. “Years had went by, and I saw some deer standing on a tree line, and it just broke me.
“The pain subsides, but it never goes away,” he said. “There’s never a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think of him.”
For Kim Smith, the mother of Dennis Chism, her son’s death haunts her daily.
Shot walking down the street after he went to the grocery store, Chism was just a few blocks from Smith’s home.
“When I got there, he was covered in blood, and I see that every day,” she said. “Seeing my son being put in a body bag, I live with that each day, and it’s just so hard.”
The 26-year-old loved sports, music, playing video games, and he loved people, especially his son.
Smith, who marched with her sister and Chism’s aunt, Debbie Smith, finds strength through her son’s heart, his giving spirit. Supporting him through the march, no matter how hard, was the right thing to do, she said.
“It was very hard for me – it brought back all kinds of memories of Dennis,” she said. “Every day I think it’s going to get easier, and I haven’t seen an easy day yet since he’s been gone.”
Being around people who felt the same pain was sad but also comforting for Robbin Harris.
Harris’ son, Douglas, died two days shy of his 21st birthday. While staying at a friend’s house, Douglas was shot after he woke up in the middle of the night.
“It’s like being able to talk to other people that had it happen to them – they know what you’re going through,” Harris said. “I didn’t have a lot of support when my son passed away so it was nice.
“I wanted to march to support him and be there to support to save other children from his happening to them. I mean, every time you turn on the news, somebody is getting shot.”
While it might be a drastic resolution to some, dramatically increasing the cost of bullets could help, said Harris’ fiancé, Rick Smith.
“It sounds crazy, but we were watching a comedy show, and he said if bullets were several hundred dollars apiece, you’d really have to do something terrible for me to shoot you,” Rick Smith said. “It’s just a crying shame more justice wasn’t served for [Harris].”
Like the dozens of supporters of the march, Kim Smith wants just one thing: “I would just love to see the young guys out here just put the guns down.’’
“I hope they hear the message,’’ she said. “It’s just unnecessary, the violence is so unnecessary.”
While the march was just one step, you have to start somewhere, Slade said.
“Today’s big number for me is one,” Slade said. “One less child dead, one less parent grieving, one less illegal gun on the street.”