VCU alumnus killed by park police remembered at campus vigil

Photo by Gessler Santos-Lopez

Hannah Eason, Contributing Writer

Students, alumni and family members gathered Wednesday in the VCU Compass in remembrance of Bijan Ghaisar, a VCU graduate who was shot nine times by park police in Fairfax County.

Solemn faces held candles and posters reading #WeAreBijan. Tears rolled down the cheeks of James and Kelly Ghaisar as they spoke of their son’s bright smile, compassionate heart and love for VCU.

A candlelight vigil and silent march was held to remember Ghaisar’s life and to raise awareness of the police aggression he fell victim to. Two days before the vigil — 502 days after Bijan’s death — his parents learned the names of the police officers who took their son’s life.

Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard have been identified as the two U.S. park police officers who shot unarmed Bijan Ghaisar, 25, on Nov. 17, 2017. He died 10 days later in a Fairfax hospital. The Justice Department has not decided whether the shooting was legally justified or if the officers will be charged with a crime.

“It took over 16 months of non-stop work, effort, over 300 hours of legal work just to get their names,” James Ghaisar said. “This is unimaginable.”

James Ghaisar said it was the first time they had been on VCU campus since Bijan graduated in 2015. He said he felt support from the event organizers and attendees — most of the people he had never met before.

James Ghaisar said he and his wife are still investigating the incident and suggested body cameras for all police officers to “protect the public.”

Kelly Ghaisar said they were “very touched” by the event, although returning to campus without her son was difficult. She said it sparked memories of him in the library — his favorite place on campus — and the many VCU sports games he attended.

“Bijan was a caring, loving, funny young man,” Kelly Ghaisar said. “He loved this town so much.”

Aundia MehrRostami organized the vigil along with the Center for Health and Human Rights at VCU, where she serves as president. The Northern Virginia-based nonprofit serves underprivileged communities through donations, medical care and volunteering in the Richmond community.

Photo by Gessler Santos-Lopez

MehrRostami, who also serves as philanthropy chair of Alpha Gamma Delta, said many Greek Life members assisted in spreading the word and the #WeAreBijan hashtag. Bijan was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity while he attended VCU.

“A lot of the people were really passionate about it and wanted to be [at the vigil,]” Mehrrostami said. “Even people that didn’t know Bijan, but people in their families were lost due to police brutality, showed a lot of support.”

Attendees met outside of James Branch Cabell Library before marching down Franklin Street, turning right on Jefferson Street and returning to the VCU Student Commons via Cary Street. VCU police officers were in attendance to accompany marchers.

In unison, marchers shouted, “We are your heart. We are your eyes. We are Bijan.”

Junior business major Amanda Valenzuela attended the march because she “believes in justice.”

“Any kind of support and love I have, I’m going to give,” Valenzuela said. “Hate exists everywhere and people just don’t want to recognize it.”

“I think it’s important to spread the message of his life,” said psychology major Nyia Chusan. “I haven’t heard anything about it, and that’s appalling.”

Following Bijan’s death in 2017, 2,000 people attended a vigil at the Lincoln Memorial, his favorite place in Washington, D.C. A year later, another vigil was held in the same place.

 

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