Boston Bus Reminds a City of Young Gun Victims

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Anti-violence advocates hope that a Boston city bus will make people think as it makes its regular rounds. The bus is painted with words and phrases about young people lost to gun violence in the city's neighborhoods. Bianca Vazquez Toness reports.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

In October, Boston's Public Transit Authority introduced a new bus. Instead of carrying ads for iPods or candy bars, this bus delivers a different message.

As Bianca Vazquez Toness of member station WBUR found out, that message is touching and unsettling some riders.

BIANCA VAZQUEZ TONESS: On the inside this bus looks like any other, but along the top where the ads usually go, sunny yellow signs line the length of the bus. In black type they read friend, cousin, brother, sister - followed by dates. These are tombstones for young people killed by violence in Boston.

Kai Malone is sitting in the back of the bus. She's writing in a Dr. Phil life workbook.

Ms. KAI MALONE: Yeah, I've lost friends due to gun violence unfortunately. It was years ago but still, you know, it still means something to me.

TONESS: Malone grew up in what she calls some rough neighborhoods in Boston and says she doesn't expect everyone to understand the meaning of this moving memorial. A local graphic designer got money from the National Endowment for the Arts to paint the exterior to look like a school bus.

Silma Gonzalez Acaba(ph) boards the bus after a long day at work. She was hoping to space out, but instead she confronts a monument to kids gunned down on Boston's streets.

Ms. SILMA GONZALEZ ACABA: To be honest, a part of me would prefer not to see it. You know, a part of me (unintelligible).

TONESS: Gonzalez Acaba already knows about the violence first hand. She translates for Spanish speakers at Boston Medical Center, where most of Boston's gunshot and stabbing victims go for treatment. So far this year, 337 people have been shot and nearly 70 people have died in homicides, many of them children and teenagers, and a lot of the crimes remain unsolved.

Gonzalez Acaba says the violence pervades life away from work, too.

Ms. GONZALEZ ACABA: It's a reality that we feel all the time. We carry it with us when we walk at night and we hear a noise that, you know, we were not expecting.

TONESS: She's worried the bus will lose its impact if people get used to seeing it, and that's why the creators of the bus memorial and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority are deliberately circulating the bus on different routes. The bus can be on one side of the city one morning and a completely different area that evening.

This afternoon, the bus is operating on the Crosstown 1 Route, going back and forth to Cambridge, past MIT to downtown Boston.

Mr. ANDREW STERNER: I think this is my stop.

TONESS: Andrew Sterner is getting off in Cambridge, where he's headed to his first day interning at a recording studio. He's 19 and says he still has a lot to see and do.

Sterner gets off the bus and looks back at it, reading the short epitaphs painted on the outside as it pulls away.

He was Katie's first love. Love is in big, bold letters. He brought home stray animals. She was going to law school. He was headed for big things.

Mr. STERNER: With some of them, I can almost think of myself, some of the quotes like he was an A student. I was an A student, too. He was funny. I guess some of my friends would consider me funny and some of my family members. So you can sort of connect with what some of the quotes say. That's, I guess, what makes it so tough, you know?

TONESS: Sterner also notices most of the epitaphs are for young men around his age, with a few women sprinkled among them. He says he doesn't understand why.

For NPR News, this is Bianca Vazquez Toness in Boston.

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