Howard moms join D.C. gun-safety march

Ellicott City group honors boy fatally shot in accident

May 15, 2000|By Karen Keys | Karen Keys,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- "Does everyone have buttons? Does everyone have sunscreen? Kleenex? If anyone needs to go to the bathroom, now would be a good time."

Mary Catherine Cochran made the motherly suggestions to friends, family and classmates of Tanun "Byrd" Wichainaraphong at the Million Mom March in Washington yesterday.

Wichainaraphong, a sixth-grader at Burleigh Manor Middle School in Ellicott City, was playing video games with friends last month when a 15-year-old accidentally fired a bullet that struck him in the head, according to police. He died two days later.

The Ellicott City group marched to honor the 13-year-old Wichainaraphong and to join others to advocate gun-control legislation that would require trigger locks to protect children and a national system that would register handguns and license their owners.

Ready to march, the children lined up behind a homemade banner that read: "How many more kids must die before better guns laws are made?" The word "die" was drawn to drip red, and the word "kids" was colored in rainbow shades.

"I think it's a shame that we're supposed to be the best country in the world and this sort of thing happens," said Wichainaraphong's cousin Mati Varavut, 17. "I love Byrd a lot, and this is for him."

Terry Beckmann, whose son is a sixth-grader at Burleigh Manor, marveled at the scene on the National Mall. "It's a mass of humanity," she said. "It's amazing."

As Howard County residents arrived, Beckmann handed them buttons emblazoned with Wichainaraphong's smiling face and the words, "Byrd: April 7, 1987-April 21, 2000."

The Burleigh Manor group arrived in time to see Wichainaraphong's two younger brothers ring a 400-pound bell in honor of children who have been killed by guns. The 400-pound bell, made from melted handguns, was rung 12 times to signify the approximate number of children killed by guns each day.

Howard County mothers began mobilizing for the event during the winter. Carole Fisher, a mother of five and grandmother of seven from Ellicott City, read a pamphlet about the march and started sending e-mails to women she knew.

Shortly after, Fisher, a handful of friends and members of the League of Women Voters posted fliers and handed out pamphlets at work places, schools, churches and synagogues -- anywhere they thought they would find a mother.

Fisher's e-mail address directory grew to more than 250 names. Yesterday, after months of planning, the county sent seven bus loads to Washington.

Temple Isaiah and the National Council of Jewish Women with the Bet Aviv congregation also sponsored buses. Others chose to drive themselves or take public transportation.

About Wichainaraphong's death, she said, It was "one of those horrible, horrible experiences that is going to scar two families forever." Yet she said she remains hopeful that change can be accomplished.

"I never dreamed it would get this big," she said, looking at thousands around her. "I know we're going to make a difference."

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