On December 9, Norton Heights Community of Christ church (436 Norton) held a vigil of remembrance for each homicide victim in Kansas City during 2017.
Every victim was represented with a white cross, which were placed on the grounds of the church. Leon Berg, a member of the pastoral team at Norton Heights Community of Christ, said that the idea for the display stemmed from a report he’d heard on the radio about the violent crime wave this year in Kansas City. When he looked deeper into the figures, Berg saw that the city’s homicide numbers had been on an upward trajectory since 2014, when just 82 homicides were recorded in Kansas City, Missouri. That number has steadily increased over the intervening years, and the 149 KCMO homicides recorded thus far in 2017 (through Dec. 28) are closing in on the highest total in the city’s history.
With the violence weighing heavily, Berg and the members of Norton Heights Community of Christ church resolved to remember those homicide victims.
“It was just a spate of them, and it was heavy on my heart. The phrase in my mind was, ‘Just remember them,’” Berg remembers. “Everybody has worth, no matter what your life story is.”
But less than two weeks after the vigil, Berg arrived at the church to find more than a dozen of the homemade crosses damaged.
“On Thursday the 21st – on Thursday evenings we have a sharing and caring pray time together – that’s when I noticed it,” Berg said. “It could have happened any time between Tuesday (the 19th) and Thursday.”
Berg noted that while the church does have security cameras, they weren’t in a position to identify the perpetrators. The church couldn’t ascertain a motive, either; Berg said that the church has received positive responses from the families of victims.
“We’ve had about three, maybe four requests from families of the victims – if they might have the cross,” Berg said.
If the vandals are eventually identified, Berg would welcome a conversation with those responsible.
“I would say, ‘Can we sit down and talk to each other? Can I ask you about why you did what you did?’” Berg said. “Was it just something for fun, to expend some energy? Was it something you had against the idea of names on the crosses?”
Meanwhile, Berg noted that there have been about a dozen more homicides since the December 9 vigil. He said the church intends to make additional crosses for every victim through the end of the year, while also replacing those that were damaged in the act of vandalism. Moving forward, Berg says that Norton Heights Community of Christ will likely continue its new tradition of remembrance.
“We do intend to make this an annual vigil event,” Berg said.