A bow tie from homecoming, a tiny basketball and a toy car and plane.
It wasn’t hard for Angel Alire to decide what would be the perfect objects to memorialize her son. He was a starting point guard for his high school basketball team, he poured his heart and much of his money into his sports car, and he was close to earning his pilot’s license.
Devon Trey Heyborne, 22, was killed on a Friday evening in April after opening his apartment door and being hit with gunfire. He is one of the nearly 100 people killed in Albuquerque this year, marking yet another grim record as the city deals with a crime wave that has spanned several years.
Alire is among the Albuquerque mothers and other family members who will add to what organizers hope one day will become a permanent memorial in the nation’s capital. It’s difficult to talk about, but the 46-year-old mother of three said she wants to be a voice for her youngest son and for change within the criminal justice system.
“I just want to get the word out there so something can happen, so other families will never have to feel this way,” she said. “But even since he passed, look at how many more there have been.”
The Gun Violence Memorial Project features four houses built of 700 glass bricks to represent the average number of people lost to homicides, suicides and accidental shootings each week in the United States. Each glass brick displays a person’s name. Inside, the items tell the story behind that name.
Launched in 2019 in Chicago, the gun violence memorial was inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt that debuted in the 1980s. The gun violence memorial currently is on display at a museum in Washington, D.C., as part of an exhibition that will run through September 2022.
Organizers call it “an active and living memorial,” as items from around the country are continuously collected and added to the glass houses.
Volunteers with the project will stop in Albuquerque on Nov. 5-7 to collect items from families who have lost loved ones. Other collection events are planned this month in Massachusetts and New York.
In Albuquerque, the number of shootings in which people were injured has increased by nearly 16% when compared with the same period last year. Law enforcement has recorded about 250 shootings so far this year, including more than three dozen accidental shootings. Most of the victims have been men between the ages of 20 and 30.
“Gun violence is the main factor driving up crime in our city,” APD Chief Harold Medina said last week. “This task force is going to help us better understand the underlying causes so that law enforcement can stop acting as a band aid, and we can really address the challenges people are facing.”
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller signed an executive order last week creating a task force to focus on gun violence. He and other officials call it a public health crisis.
Alire, the police chief and others have been pointing to problems within the criminal justice system – namely a revolving door and lax consequences for repeat offenders.
In the case of Alire’s son, the man charged in his death was supposed to be on house arrest for unrelated charges and monitored via GPS.
Hardworking and handsome is how Alire described her son, saying he would never miss a chance to visit his grandparents and help them with chores and grocery shopping. Alire said her son also would call her “about 20 times a day,” asking for advice on everything from cooking pot roast to cleaning methods.
Her cellphone is filled with photos and videos of Devon.
“I feel let down by our system and by our state,” Alire said. “Systems that are supposed to protect us aren’t working.”
She has a hard time sleeping now, and it was one of her late-night online browsing sessions where she learned about the memorial project. Seeing all those glass bricks made an impact.
“I just thought it was such an amazing visual for people to see the amount of lives taken every week from gun violence,” she said. “I felt like there’s been so much of that going on in New Mexico that I wanted to bring it here and be able to start the healing process among all of us who have lost someone.”