Sandy vigil honors 435 Utahns killed by guns in 2023
Dec 7, 2023, 5:53 PM | Updated: 10:25 pm
SANDY — A vigil was held Thursday evening at the Community of Grace Presbyterian Church in Sandy to remember those who died from being shot in the past year.
A tree with the names of victims and programs with victims pictures in them were part of the vigil.
“There are a lot of families up here and husbands and wives and children,” said Nancy Halden. “It is really wrenching.”
Halden is with the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah. It is a group dedicated to change state laws when it comes to guns in an effort to try and decrease the number of people killed by them.
“We track the numbers, especially here in Utah, and see those numbers inching up,” said Halden.
This year, the group is honoring 456 Utahns killed by guns in the past year.
Among them, Tausha Haight, who was shot and killed by her husband in Enoch this past January along with her five kids and mother.
It’s important to note this group isn’t looking to ban guns. Members would just like to change some laws that might help save lives.
“I talk to a lot of gun owners and they’re really on the same page that we are,” said Halder. “I come from a hunting family where we had guns. I get it. When I talk to those gun owners, they agree with me and would like to see all the loopholes around background checks closed.”
That is just one law the group would like to see passed. Others include a gun-safe storage bill to make it harder for kids to access their parents’ guns at home.
The group would also like some sort of “extreme risk order protection” for people going through a mental crisis.
“It’s not to take away their gun or their guns permanently. Just temporarily,” said Halden. “That is especially effective with suicide, and as you know, suicide is our biggest gun violence issue here.”
It’s not just suicide and murder victims who were being honored during the vigil. Many shooting deaths in the past year have been accidental, like a child playing with their parents gun they found in the home.
Mia Maile’s cousin, Paul Tahi, and his friend Tivani Lopati were killed outside Hunter High School two years ago.
“It was just that wake-up call of, ‘hey, this is happening way more than we realize,'” Tahi said.
She says it feels good to be around others here who understand the pain.
“I think it was healing. I think it was the first step of getting your feelings and to see other people that have lost somebody,” Tahi said.
Matt Gwyther is a victim too.
“I lost my husband about 4-and-half years ago to gun violence,” Gwyther said. “It’s important to remember how they lived, not necessarily how they died.”
And for some, like Neca Allgood, losing a loved one encouraged her to try to make some change. She is on the board for the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah.
“My brother was shot 20 years ago,” Allgood said. “Sitting around saying hope and prayers, does nothing. What are we doing to prevent this?”
Halden feels all it will take to see a decrease in the number of shooting victims is to change laws.
“We just need some bold leadership,” she said. “Oh, we could save so many lives.”
Contributing: KSL TV”s Debbie Worthen