My only son, Ross, was murdered in the Virginia Tech Massacre on April 16, 2007 — the worst mass school shooting in U.S. history. He was in his French class. Ross was intelligent, kind, musically talented, built computers and had a dry wit. He loved making people laugh.
The shooter was a mentally ill senior who had been admitted to the hospital one year before with suicidal and homicidal ideations. He never should have been able to pass the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and purchase a gun. The shooter purchased two semiautomatic weapons, along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition. He took 32 innocent people’s lives, along with injuring 17 students.
I got involved with helping change laws starting in the fall of 2007, starting with updating the NICS with Brady. I could not bear to see another family go through the horror. Different from Brady, laws were changed regarding the interpretation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in schools and the clarification of the Clery Act (Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (signed in 1990) regarding notification of a threat on campus immediately because of April 16. I also got involved with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which branched into Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action.
My heart aches for Ross every day. I can’t change the past, but I can honor my precious son and others who lost their lives in the massacre. Every day, I wear a gold medallion that I helped design. It has a remembrance ribbon with Ross’s birthstone, a sapphire, and diamonds. Also there’s a number, 32, for the number of innocent lives taken that dreadful day. Also, it has a butterfly because when I was at a memorial service at Tech, I asked Ross for a sign. A butterfly flew past his friends and me, then went off to parts unknown. It was even at dusk!
What I’ve done is to reach out to other victims of gun violence, as nobody understands unless you’re in this horrible club.
What makes me proud is arranging with the corporate office of Lamar Outdoor Advertising to have billboards across the country to display the PSA for National Gun Violence Awareness Day for Everytown for Gun Safety. Also I arranged to have the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial bridge in Boston shine orange on Gun Violence Awareness Day and on April 16 to shine maroon and orange (Virginia Tech colors).
After giving our local RI/MA Lamar Outdoor Advertising photos of Virginia Tech’s memorial, they designed a beautiful remembrance billboard which they display on April 16. I have a routine that day. I have chocolate chip pancakes, which Ross liked (who wouldn’t?), have a hot dog at Sonic Hamburger in the evening and reflect as the display lights up. I’ll conclude the evening by driving over the lit Zakim Bridge that will shine maroon and orange, then park the car after getting off in a nearby park and reflecting once more.