More than 3,300 crosses, Stars of David and Islamic symbols were installed on the National Mall Thursday as peace activists created a mock cemetery to honor victims of gun violence.
Organizers said the number of markers was chosen to honor the victims of gun violence who have died since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
At 11:30 a.m., religious leaders from across the country -- including some from Newtown -- began a 24-hour vigil among the grave markers, a protest aimed at lawmakers as they began to vote on a set of new gun restrictions.
“The nation’s conscience was awakened by the mass shootings of children, but every day, every day, 86 people today, eight children today will die, and all of those shootings need to awaken our conscience,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners, one of the groups that installed the symbolic gravesite.
"This isn't just a theoretical back and forth," said Timothy King, a volunteer with Sojourners. "These are real lives. Each one of these crosses represents a person who died, that had a family, that had friends, and people who are mourning them today."
They read the names of those who lost their lives, starting with the children of the Newtown school shootings, News4's Chris Gordon reported. They will continue until the Senate adjourns.
Pastor Samuel Saylor was overcome after sharing how sick it made him to witness all the violence and then to become a victim when his son Shane was shot.
“I wanted to get off of that parade of pain,” he said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to come to these vigils anymore,’ -- it was killing me -- not knowing that a week-and-a-half later that I would get a call saying that you need to lead this parade because it’s your son. I realize that I should have done more. I feel guilty that I didn't do more.”
“We need to take action so many more crosses and many more religious symbols are not to be placed here to raise the consciousness of the nation,” said the Rev. Rajwant Singh, of Potomac, Md., founder of the Sikh Council on Religion & Education.
“I've witnessed so much loss,” said Rabbi Rachel Gartner, Jewish Chaplaincy at Georgetown University. “So many lives taken from people way too young and in way too violent ways, and when you have an opportunity to just take a moment to speak on their behalf, it feels like the most holy mitzvah that one can do.”
PICO National Network and D.C.'s Park View Kid Zone also helped install the gravesite, reported News4's Seth Lemon.
"We've lost friends, some of us have lost family members," said Angela Strange of Park View Kids' Zone. "So yeah, it is significant for them working on this."
The protest was one of several -- advocating for or against more restrictions on gun purchases -- timed for Thursday's Senate vote.
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, said each grave is a person, a tragedy and a call to Congress.
“To act to stop access to deadly weapons, to have background checks that work and to stop trafficking of guns across state lines in ways that aren’t controlled. This has to stop,” Saperstein said.
“More than 3,300 people have died as a result of gun violence since the tragedy in Newtown, and it’s past time for our leaders to act,” said the Rev. Michael McBride, director of PICO National Network’s Lifelines to Healing campaign.