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Sherborn church puts out empty school chairs to remember victims of Parkland shooting

Michele Proulx stopped to pay her respects at the 17 empty desks outside of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Sherborn to mark the one year anniversary of the Parkland school shooting. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Alyssa. Scott. Martin. Nicholas. Aaron. Jaime. Chris. Luke. Cara. Joaquin. Alaina. Meadow. Helena. Alex. Carmen. Peter. Gina.

Officials from the Unitarian Universalist Church in Sherborn taped the first names of the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting onto the backs of 17 empty desk chairs this week, before placing them outside on the church’s lawn.

The somber display marks the first anniversary of last year’s deadly massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and is meant to get people to continue thinking about the lives needlessly lost to gun violence in the country, said the Rev. Nathan Detering, senior minister at the church.


“We are aware of the churn of the news cycle. You can barely even keep up hour-to-hour, never mind month-to-month and year-to-year,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday. “We knew this date was coming up on Valentine’s Day, and we wanted to make sure that we found a way to use our public space to memorialize and remember the names of the kids, and the lives that were lost in the event.”

The remembrance was one of several around the state. In Harvard Square, sixth-grade students from Putnam Avenue Upper School gathered to honor the victims of the Stoneman Douglas and to call for stricter gun control laws in the United States. The Cambridge students handed out bandanas they made honoring victims of four school shootings.

On Boston Common, alumni of Stoneman Douglas gathered for a vigil.

In Sherborn, Detering said the chairs were placed outside on Saturday and will remain there through the weekend. The display includes a large banner at the front entrance of the church that reads, “Remembering Parkland.”

He said that on Sunday, a day after the display was arranged, parishioners gathered outside the church following the weekly service and reflected on the lasting pain caused by the shooting.


“A couple hundred people were outside,” he said. “They read out the names one by one, and we took the time to think about what their aspirations and dreams were that got completely interrupted.”

Detering said the church decided to use only the first names of the victims because he thought it would have a greater impact on those who read them.

“We know other people who have that name, and I think that’s the big one — it feels instantly relatable,” he said. “And when you see an empty desk, well, all of us remember high school.”

In order to share the display with people outside of Sherborn and the church community, officials posted pictures of the chairs to Facebook, along the with a list of the full names and ages of the students and teachers who were murdered.

“In an era of short news cycles, when tragedy of this magnitude gets pushed off the front page by the next disaster or presidential tweet, we resist becoming numb to mass shootings and gun violence,” officials wrote in a poignant message.

The church decided to use only the first names of the victims because they thought it would have a greater impact on those who read them. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Detering said that he hopes people who see the desks scattered about the church’s lawn — whether online or in person — walk away with a visceral reaction, one that cuts through the noise of partisan politics and daily breaking news.

“There’s a story behind each of those 17 names and that felt especially important not to miss amidst all of the debates and the constant cycle of news,” he said. “Somewhere, there are parents who lost their babies, to be completely blunt about it.”


As a father of two children in high school, Detering said he would like to see a world where people are shocked by violence, and look past personal beliefs on particular issues to instead come together and enact change.

Although he has faith, he knows the country is not quite there yet.

“It’s not OK that my kids this week or next week have to have a school safety drill on an intruder,” Detering said. “But that’s the world that we live in. But the world we live in is not the world that we can hope for.”

In other words, he said: “The world that is, is not a world that can be.”

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.