GREENFIELD – Inside the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew, next to a poster for Meaghan Burns’ vigil, a piece of paper read, “The church may be empty, but know you are not alone.”
But Wednesday night, when the church pews were filled and people stood in the back of the church, each person was reminded through song, prayers and words the two steps of healing according to the Rev. Will Sencabaugh – love and gratitude.
“People are here today because of the love the Burns family shared with each and with the community,” Sencabaugh said. He told Burns’ parents he loved them. “We are so grateful you shared Meaghan with all of us. We loved Meaghan and we will always be grateful for her service to her country, her free spirit and sense of humor and most especially her love and compassion.”
Burns, a 23-year-old active-duty U.S. Navy corpsman, was shot to death near her station in Portsmouth, Va. On Tuesday, her remains were transported to her hometown of Deerfield by police escort.
Sencabaugh said the simple ceremony was what Burns wished for.
“When her funeral came up one time with a friend, Meaghan said at her funeral she wanted dancing, music and laughing — I think that sounds about right,” Sencabaugh said.
He touched on Burns’ personality.
“She felt things very deeply, someone once said about Meaghan, ‘What someone was a scratch, to her was a deep cut,’” Sencabaugh said.
While Burns was always up for an adventure, she enjoyed going against the grain and loved to sing.
“She loved to sing and dance — whether it was ‘Sweetest Thing’ by U2 when she was a toddler or ‘I Want Wine’ in her formative teens,” said Sencabaugh. “She would play a song over and over again until she knew all the words.”
He said one way he knew Burns was through her friendship and his son.
“My son would have a sleepover at my house with a bunch of guys and, a miracle of all miracles, Natalie the next-door neighbor would have a sleepover the same night,” Sencabaugh said. “Over the years, their friendship grew deeper and their mutual love of music of the same bands.”
Burns was one of three active-duty Navy corpsmen killed in what police are calling a double homicide and suicide. She and Shianne Taylor Soles were shot to death on the night of May 4 outside a 7-Eleven convenience store in Portsmouth, Va. Later officers found a man identified as Donavon Moora dead from a self-inflicted injury in the parking lot of a Dollar General, according to a statement from the Portsmouth (Va.) Police Department.
“Meaghan was the innocent victim of senseless gun violence while trying to help a friend,” her obituary says.
The Rev. Douglas Fisher reflected on gun violence prevention at Wednesday’s vigil.
Fisher said while his first instinct was to talk about Burns and her life and his second inclination was to offer times of silence, but the Burns’ family wanted to speak about gun control.
He said the issue of gun violence is not a political one.
“It’s a health issue — it would be like for years and years 97 people a day died of a disease,” Fisher said. And there are ways that people can address this public health crisis. “Meaghan is not a number, she is a loving daughter, sister and friend. There are many ways we can honor this woman’s life. One way of addressing this public health crisis is with action.”
Fisher gave other recommendations, like reaching out to local politicians, to honor Burns’ life as well.
The crowd was encouraged to sing along with songs like “One” by U2, “I’ll stand by you” by the Pretenders and “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead.
The ceremony ended by lighting candles and singing “40” by U2.
Gifts in honor of Burns can be forwarded to Bishops United Against Gun Violence, payable to the Episcopal Church in Connecticut with “Bishops United” in the memo line, to: Episcopal Church in Connecticut, The Commons, 290 Pratt St., Box 52, Meriden CT 06450.