ALBANY -- Candles and flowers filled a small table in the parking lot next to Zaki Kabob House on Tuesday night -- a scene repeated across the country in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. A small group of people gathered in the cold and wind to light the candles and talk about gun violence.
The shocking nature of the Newtown shooting -- 20 children and six adults dead -- was extreme, one of the worst mass shootings in American history.
However, two points stood out: Newtown, like Albany, is a small town where nobody would expect something like this; and although Albany normally doesn't face day-to-day gun violence, the East Bay has been devastated by shooting after shooting.
"It's a nice little bedroom community," Oakland resident Bobbe Leviten said of Albany. "It has always been safe. The schools are good. Nobody expects it to happen. I would be just as shocked if this happened in Albany."
Such a tragedy could happen anywhere, Leviten said, adding, "As long as we sensationalize it and as long as we allow anybody to buy any kind of gun and weapon, it's going to happen. It could happen here next."
Ramzy Ayyad, catering manager at Zaki Kabob House on San Pablo Avenue, organized the vigil. His family was touched by gun violence in June, 2010, when his 20-year-old brother Asama was killed in a shooting in Richmond.
Asama Ayyad was driving in Richmond and a van pulled up and one of the people stuck a gun
The shooter said after he was caught that he intended to shoot someone else.
"What's ironic about his death is one of his childhood friends was shot in Oakland," Ramzy Ayyad said. "He was putting a decal of his friend on his car -- in Arabic, 'Rest in peace.' He came to me and said, 'I've got one more. Do you want to put one on your car?' I said, 'No, I don't have any room on my window.' He gets in his car and drives away. Those were his last words."
Ramzy Ayyad learned of the Newtown shooting while working out in a gym. That night, he fell asleep in front of the television, then woke up at 3 a.m. and started sobbing.
"I don't do that, I don't like doing that," he said. "I felt really affected by that. I thought of my brother. One day after that, my mom said, 'Why not have a vigil?'"
Ayyad noted that Albany is between Richmond and Oakland, where gun violence is part of everyday life.
"It's shielded," he said. "I felt that Newtown is similar to Albany. It can happen over here, unfortunately. Like (President) Obama said, it's something that needs to be looked at. On both sides, Republican and Democrat. I would think that they would both agree that after this, something needs to be done."
Ayyad went to Kennedy High School in Richmond. He said classmates never wanted to talk about the violence that had affected them.
"Now I see why," he said. "It just brings up these emotions. To never see your brother again, someone you grew up with. It just brings up these emotions in my head when you see stuff like this. You see it on TV, you think about the parents right before the holidays. They bought gifts for their kids. Some of them probably had to have a closed casket because they shot them in the face. That's something very traumatic."
The Ayyad family immigrated to the United States from Palestine in 1979 to escape the violence in their homeland.
"My mother and father, they were refugees," Ramzy Ayyad said. "They saw all that stuff. They used to tell me stories how, during the Seven-Day War, they were walking in the desert, dead bodies all around, planes overhead. They were walking to Jordan. They just saw death and destruction all around them and they decided it was time to come here. Thirty, 40 years later, it's still around. Not as much, but it's still there. It still has an affect on your life."
Ayyad has been working to make Zaki Kabob House an integral part of the community in Albany, organizing fundraisers for the libraries here and in El Cerrito, among many things.
"It's such a nice gesture that they did," Leviten said of the vigil. "It's something that I expected they will do. Gestures like this are incredibly important. And I'm glad they do it."