AURORA, Colo. — On a hot July afternoon, the Aurora History Museum is quiet, but Heather Dearman continues to work.
"These are just so beautiful and full and colorful," she said as she stood on her toes and attempted to reach a Styrofoam wreath filled with colorful paper cranes.
"Oh I love looking at notes on them," she said as she got ahold of one headed to Uvalde, Texas. "Love always wins," she read.
Wreaths covered with paper cranes were not supposed to fill Heather Dearman's day; but when mass shootings keep happening, the work piles up.
"It doesn’t get any easier to have to keep making these," the Aurora resident said.
That week's haul was the largest. Four mass shootings meant four wreaths will come down, for yet another to go up.
"As I'm putting this one up, I am hoping and praying that this is the only one on the wall," Dearman said as she began to cry. She placed a label in the middle of the wreath that read, "Highland Park, Illinois."
"We're lucky that we have this project to share with other people, and to think, it all started with that boy in O'Fallon, Missouri, over there that sent that to us," she said.
That Missouri boy Dearman referenced is now a man. Nate Williams was 15-years-old when he decided to make a thousand paper cranes and send them to Aurora in July 2012.
"There's this headline that there was this horrific shooting in Aurora during a screening of the movie we were just in, you know, halfway across the country, and so that really hit me hard because that could have been anyone of us," Williams recalled via Zoom.
"I had stumbled upon this ancient proverb about the paper cranes and the impact of 1,000 paper cranes, and so I said I'm going to do this," he said.
The paper cranes were delivered to Aurora shortly after the movie theater shooting. Dearman remembered seeing them as she grieved her 6-year-old second cousin, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, killed in the incident.
"I think [Veronica's] up there collaborating with you know the children of Sandy Hook and Uvalde, and they're up there smiling up in heaven and looking down at us and hoping that when they're looking down that all of us are being kind to one another and enjoying life," Dearman said as she began to cry.
"We want to collect as much paper cranes to fill up a huge container to show how much more love in the world there is than hate, and we keep having to use those cranes, and it’s hard to believe it just keeps happening so much in succession," she said.
For every mass shooting, the 7/20 Foundation Paper Crane Project mails origami cranes with words of support to the grieving community. While Dearman never thought the shootings would be this frequent, she is confident the cranes make a difference.
"No matter how many mass shootings there have been, our paper crane collection continues to grow and is always is refilled no matter what, and I think that just proves that when it comes down to it, there's always love to give, and it always refills when you share it with one another," she said.
If you are looking to contribute to the paper cranes project, a wreath for the Highland Park shooting as well as one for the mall shooting in Greenwood, Indiana, is currently on display at the Aurora History Museum.
Anyone can visit the museum while they're open and leave a paper crane and message of support.
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