May 15, 2000  

Chad Kipp-McGowan boarded the bus in Westborough with a simple message on his shirt: ''Tony 1972-1994.''

The Ashland teacher was one of an estimated 750,000 people who made their way to Washington yesterday to be part of the Million Mom March rally for stricter handgun laws.

Some went to share their stories. Others went to listen.

Like many who attended, Kipp-McGowan has been touched by gun violence. The shirt was a tribute to his childhood friend from Cincinnati, Anthony Alford.

''He was involved in a drug deal that didn't go quite the way he expected,'' said Kipp-McGowan.

Although the loss of his friend is the main reason he attended the march, Kipp-McGowan's role as a math teacher at Ashland Middle School also spurred him to action.

''I'm trying to keep guns out of schools,'' he said.

McGowan was among 12 busloads of people who left Boston and MetroWest Saturday night to be part of the Mother's Day rally, to hear the speakers and make their voices heard.

Many, like Kirsten Shirley of Boston, carried signs.

Hers read: ''My brother Kevin and two friends Matt and Luis were killed, murdered, with a gun. Stop the violence. Create peace. Kevin Shirley, 9/4/81-5/29/99.''

''They were gunned down while they were driving home from a party'' in Albuquerque, N.M., she said. ''A semiautomatic riddled their car. Each was hit eight to 10 times.''  


''Underneath all this is a deep sadness when you think of all the people who have lost people,'' said Carol Reilly of Framingham.

Reilly's daughters made the journey with her yesterday.

Shannon, 27, and Heather, 23, paid the bus fare as a Mother's Day present.

''Please make me safe,'' read a sign Carol Reilly carried throughout the day. Written in a childish scrawl, the sign was made by Ryan Bernath, 10, and Sarah Willis, also 10, both students at Juniper Hill School in Framingham who also attend the home day care Reilly runs.

It was one of many signs that illustrated the poignancy of the day, signs that contained cries of help from anguished families: ''NRA equals Non Remorseful Apes,'' ''Smart Parents Ask. Asking Saves Kids,'' ''Protect Our Kids.''

Many signs featured pictures of smiling children and adults who had been killed by guns. One banner featured ''Kelsey M. Laughlin, Jan. 16, 1998-Jan. 18, 1998.'' On the other side was a picture of her mother, Sherry Ann Culp. Culp, who was 8½ months pregnant, was killed when someone came up to her car window as she was leaving work in Springfield, Va., shooting her once in the head and once in the neck, said her mother, Jane Young.

Kelsey was delivered the day of the shooting, but died two days later.

Donna Pearson, a friend of Young's, said the case is expected to be featured on ''America's Most Wanted'' this summer.

''Something has to be done, mothers have to speak,'' Young said.  

The road to Washington  

Most of the local buses, 11 under the auspices of the Newton-based Stop Handgun Violence and one sponsored by Congregation B'nai Shalom of Westborough, were on the road by 11 p.m. Saturday.

The group traveled caravan style toward the nation's capital, stopping about 2 a.m. for a rest in New Jersey.

There was little talking on the trip down. The 40 or so women and men on one of the buses tried to rest before the long day that lay ahead of them.

Arriving in Maryland at 6:30 a.m. to find few of the comforts of home, they improvised. People brushed their teeth with bottled water over trash cans. They changed clothes on the bus. And they boarded the Metro, Washington's subway, to head to the National Mall in front of the Washington Monument to make their voices heard.

It was a 15-minute subway ride for some who headed to a breakfast for Massachusetts marchers hosted by U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and his wife Victoria.

The outdoor buffet, held near the National Archives building, offered an array of fruit — strawberries, pears and bananas — and a rowboat filled with iced juices. There were also bagels and flavored creamed cheeses for those who stopped by.

The Kennedys brought their dog, Splash, a Portuguese water dog clad in a Million Mom T-shirt, and greeted constituents with encouraging words about gun control legislation.

''The fact is you are here and this is the time to be here,'' said Kennedy. ''We're going to make an effort on the floor of the Senate Tuesday,'' he said in reference to a vote on the Lautenberg amendment which would close a loophole that allows buyers at gun shows to skirt the Brady Law for background checks. The amendment also would prohibit sales of handguns without safety devices, prohibit the importation of large capacity ammunition clips, and ban juvenile possession of semiautomatic weapons.

Victoria Reggie Kennedy encouraged people to take gun safety into their own hands.

''The message is that while we are waiting for policy changes, there are things we can do,'' she said. She advised people to lock up guns and hide the keys. Parents should talk to other parents who might host a visit from a child and ask if there is a gun in the house and if so where it is stored, she said. Parents should talk to their children.

Later in the day, two of Kennedy's nieces addressed the crowd at the National Mall.

Maryland's Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and her sister Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, daughters of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968, spoke at the rally.

Jane Hardin of Millis was touched by their eloquence.

''The Kennedy daughters were so well spoken. What a legacy to their father,'' she said.

Mothers' stories

With mothers running the show, the noontime march started a little early. It was closer to 11 a.m. when the walkers started to make their way from one end of the Mall to the other.

And though the march ended quickly, it was exhilarating to many who took part.

''This is such a cool feeling,'' said Lori Gillen of Framingham, who went with her 12-year-old son David Salomon. ''We could never do this in Cuba. It's so empowering. You could say whatever you want on signs and hold them up.''

With brightly colored balloons, the smells of food cooking, two sound stages and movie screens, it looked more like a carnival than a political rally, but few came to have fun.

Recent acts of violence were what led most people to Washington yesterday.

The Columbine High School massacre, last summer's rampage at a Jewish community center in California, the recent shootings at National Zoo in Washington and the death of Michigan first-grader Kayla Rolland were the frequently cited motivators.

Rolland's mother addressed the crowd.

''The gun that killed my daughter in her classroom was one that could be loaded by a 6-year-old, carried by a 6-year-old, and fired by a 6-year-old,'' said Veronica McQueen, who was transformed into a public figure when her daughter was shot and killed in her first-grade classroom in Flint, Mich., on Feb. 29.

Newton's Valerie Turner, who attended with her 5-year-old daughter Vanessa, worries about the violence in society.

''When I see things like that happening, I feel so hopeless, so angry and depressed,'' she said. ''I want to take that energy and do something positive.''

Elizabeth Miles, the Massachusetts coordinator for the Million Mom March and project coordinator for Stop Handgun Violence, said, ''This isn't politics anymore. We're talking about public safety and public health.

''The lawmakers have been put on notice by the attention the Million Mom March has been getting. We will make a change, if not this year then next year. They have to listen to their mothers or they will receive a permanent time-out come November.''  

Tapestry of Hope  

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, running for a U.S. Senate seat from New York, joined the demonstration. Television talk show host Rosie O'Donnell acted as the day's emcee.

But it was the words of strangers that carried the most weight for many at the rally.

The Tapestry of Hope, 20-foot long screen panels in a zigzag formation, offered testaments to the high cost of violence.

People tacked up handwritten messages, photographs, newspaper articles and personal mementos.

''My son shot and killed his girlfriend. We are all victims of gun violence,'' read one note. ''Save our children that's here. I lost mine to a 22 sawed off,'' was signed by ''a Va. resident.''

''In memory of Minnie, Bernice, Mulvina and about a dozen others with whom I currently work who have had their children murdered. NO MORE,'' said another note.

And from MetroWest: ''To our Massachusetts congressmen: Protect our children. Support stricter gun control laws,'' was signed by Ronnie and Hillary Chisholm, Wayland, Mass.''

Despite the somber tones of the day, many attending drew strength from the numbers.

''It was exhilarating to be with all these people,'' Ronna Kabler of Framingham, who attended with her 2½-year-old daughter Kyra, said after the march. ''The strength of these women to be able to go on after a loss like that is just beyond imagination.''