Friday, June 18th, at exactly 12:20 a.m. MST (2:20 a.m. ET) in Utah, a 49-years-old Ronnie Lee Gardner is the first American died in a rain of bullets blasted from the rifles of five expert marksmen that resulted in ripping his heart in pieces as Utah carried out its first firing squad execution in 14 years.
Earlier today, numerous people, including Gardner’s family and friends gather up to support the family and demonstrate their opposition to the death penalty, as well as to commemorate Gardner’s death differently.
Death penalty protester Clare Hogenauer, who is totally against the death penalty since age 3, drove all the way from New York to Utah just to be present the night Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed. Hogenauer’s said that she participated in numerous executions, as well as an electrocution in Tennessee, because of the “different people, different circumstances.”
Hogenauer’s wears a shirt with printed words read “Fry onions, not people,” as well as other rally participants held signs that declared, “Moratorium Now,” “Not Fair, Not Just,” “The Death Penalty Makes Us All Murderers” and “Pray for the Burdell, Otterstrom and Gardner Families.” Protesters managed to light and raise their candles even the night was too windy, they also held a moment of silence for Gardner.
Gardner’s family shows their appreciation and welcomed Hogenauer and other protesters they didn’t know in what Gardner’s niece Amie Campbell called “a celebration of life.”
The family brought a couple of white and red balloons that represent both love and peace, which they released once they heard that Gardner had died.
“They’re for remembrance and celebration instead of mourning,” Amie Campbell said. “When his spirit gets to be freed, we’ll free the balloons.”
As the night gets deeper, people from all walks of life including Nick Kirk’s daughter Barb Webb and granddaughter Mandi Hull camped in the middle of the night.
They are planning to do a vigil of their own but decided to cancel it after they realized that they would have to share space with the mourning family.
“We sure as hell didn’t want them thinking it was for them,” Barb Webb said. “It’s horrible, just absolutely horrible. I don’t know why they would do this to us.”
Both Gardner and Kirk family expressed there disappointment in the way how brutal Gardner’s death is—through news media reports. But the family also felt relief upon hearing the news.
Suddenly, Randy Gardner express the news of his brother’s death brought him and the rest of the family a relief.
Randy Gardner said, “They ought to have told us differently, but we’re just glad he’s free,” and followed with “He’s been locked up all his life and now he’s a free bird, like the song said.”
The family and protesters free the balloons covered with messages such as “We will always miss and we will never forget, RIP” and “Smile now, always, forever”.