BINGHAMTON, N.Y. – Mayor Matt Ryan wept Friday as he tried to console himself and his community one-week after a gunman opened fire on a classroom of immigrants studying English, killing 13 people before taking his own life.
"We have suffered a tremendous loss," Ryan said as 300 people gathered to mark the April 3 rampage at the American Civic Association building in downtown Binghamton. "We lost family. We lost friends. We lost colleagues. We lost neighbors. Our peace was shattered."
Before making a commemoration march, the group gathered in front of the Broome County Courthouse, several blocks from where Jiverly Wong, 41, barged in the front door of the ACA building and, without a word, sprayed the classroom with 98 rounds in just over a minute. Eleven immigrants and two association employees died instantly.
Police speculate that Wong, from Vietnam and a former center student, was angry over losing a job and frustrated about his poor English-language skills. Police have yet to establish whether he was targeting someone at the center. After the shootings, police revealed Wong sent a rambling letter to a Syracuse television station complaining about police harassment and blaming them for his problems.
While the southwest New York city will never forget its loss, Ryan said, residents can heal by banding together.
"It is by standing together, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand ... that we will mend and heal," the mayor said, weeping.
Led by a Scottish drum and bagpipe corps, Ryan and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli marched with the group to a nearby park, where the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers meet. Clergy led a multi-faith prayer service and helped plant 14 tulip bulbs in a memorial garden. They urged listeners not to live in fear or hate but to band together to heal and move on.
"This community experienced evil last week. If this community fails to respond in the right way, that evil will get bigger and bigger," said Pastor Chang Hwan Lee of the New Covenant International Church. "If we respond the right way, we can overcome this evil. We can build a stronger community."
At least one of the three victims' families present were angered that Wong was among those counted in the remembrance.
"Do we commemorate Stalin? Do we commemorate the Holocaust? Why is this community memorializing the man who brought this hurt on us. I can understand maybe praying for him, but not commemorating him," said Lubomyr Zobniw, whose wife Maria was a caseworker at the ACA and among those who died.
Wong, wearing a bulletproof vest, barricaded the back door of the ACA building April 3 before entering from the front. He killed himself as police rushed to the scene. Police found several full ammunition clips in his satchel.
"He was a sick individual, a troubled individual, and that makes him a victim, just a different kind," the Rev. Allen Spight of the Greater Faith and Deliverance Church said after the prayer service.
Four other people were injured in the rampage. Three remained in fair condition Friday at Wilson Medical Center in Johnson City, spokeswoman Christina Boyd said.
The ACA remains closed, and spokesman Bob Bellafiore said it was undecided when classes would resume.