On December 28, 2016, at exactly midnight, my daughter’s ex-boyfriend broke into our apartment. He ran up our stairs and called me by name, and he shot me in the face. I passed out; while I was unconscious, my 16-year-old granddaughter, Rebecca, hid her little sister in a pile of blankets. Then she went out into my daughter’s (her mom’s) room, where my daughter hid a knife. She went after him, trying to get him out the house. She stabbed him twice, but he was stronger than she was. He killed her with no remorse. I don’t remember much after that.
My son, John Efrem Wilson, known as Jay to everyone, was murdered on March 23, 2020, in West Virginia, by a coward. We were told he received a call from a friend, asking him to come and get her and her son; she was trying to leave her boyfriend, who was being abusive. When the person who called him was loading her stuff into his car, the cowardly murderer shot him in the head because, as he claimed at his hearing, he was mad that my son had come to take his girlfriend away from him. He did not know my son—never met him—but took his life in a fit of rage at his girlfriend.
My son was one of the kindest people you would have ever met. His loss to our family has been devastating. As his mother, not a day goes by that I am not reminded of him; I relive over and over the senseless way he died. He was an awesome martial arts instructor, and the tributes received after his murder have spoken volumes about the kind of person he was.
The world stood still on that late March evening, as word began to travel about a horrific murder-suicide. Our tiny, rural Pennsylvanian community mourned, in shock that my mother, Gail Koppenhaver, was the homicide victim in this tragic domestic abuse incident. My mom died, the victim of gun violence two days before my 20th birthday.
Her beautiful smile, sense of humor and positive outlook lit up the lives of everyone she knew. Her coworkers, friends, customers and acquaintances all recognized the kindness and genuine happiness she brought into the world.
In addition to a career in banking/advertising, my mom was a dance teacher. She taught hundreds of dancers during the years she spent at the studio. My mother adored these children and took pride in her creativity and passion for the arts.
In 2008, my dad and I created the Gail Koppenhaver Dance and Scholarship Competition to give back to the community in her memory. Dancers from the region compete, share their talents and raise money for the GK scholarships. We have awarded over $100,000 to college seniors in the past 14 years … all in her memory.
Twenty years later … I miss my best friend.
Christmas Eve 2019 was the last night I would ever see my daughter’s smile and her gorgeous dimples. My daughter was 33 weeks pregnant, and we were looking forward to the arrival of our first granddaughter, Emilia. Loved by so many, Gabby had her life taken by an act of violence on Christmas Day as she dropped off her two sons to their father at his home.
Unfortunately, because of the trauma my daughter endured by being shot in the head at close range by an unlicensed handgun and an unlicensed gun owner, neither she nor her unborn child survived. Her sons were witnesses to this gruesome murder. Furthermore, the boys’ father then turned the gun and killed himself in front of his two sons. At the time of investigation, a total of seven unlicensed assault weapons and handguns were taken from the home.
Gabby was a beautiful soul. She was loved by so many. It is beautiful to hear how huge an impact she had on so many at such a young age. She was a successful 24-year-old entrepreneur who had just received her accreditation to be an aesthetician. She is greatly missed!
I grew up in a home with child abuse and gun violence. I was eight when my mother shot my father; she did it again after that. No one came to check on us four kids; no charges were made, even after the second time.
When I was 15, my mother put a gun to my stomach when a sheriff’s deputy drove up. As she had shot my father twice, I always believed she would have pulled the trigger. The state was South Carolina; there wasn’t help for kids caught up in gun violence then.
I’m in therapy now for this, as well as for the gun violence in childhood.
I am a survivor of domestic violence—my children and I. We endured the mental, emotional and physical abuse of being hurt when my oldest daughter, trying to protect me and her sister, ran out the house to get help or call the police or my mom. I got tired of the abuse 35 years ago, in 1986. I got my children and left my ex-husband. I was thinking about my children and their well-being—and mine—and I got us out that environment.
In 2002, my baby girl and I were held hostage by her father—same ex-husband—for five hours, with a highly powerful gun. We were thinking about how to endure getting out this hostage situation; someone called the police and the squad to come out to assist with the negotiation, to get me and my daughter out safely, and to notify my family. Thank God! Everything turned out well and blessed!
I’m a faith leader and an activist and advocate against gun violence and domestic violence. I’m a community activist as well, and I don’t tolerate any type of violence in our neighborhood. I’m a strong Survivor Fellow with Moms Demand Action and Everytown!
I didn’t grow up with a stable mother-daughter relationship. My parents divorced when I was little, and I hardly knew my dad. My mother was in and out of my life from the time I was three until the age of 14. I did not know it at the time, but my mother has bipolar disorder and refused to take her medication, resulting in her being in a state of mania half the time. I deeply loved my mother, and I still do.
About four years ago, I saw my mother for the first time in about five or six years. I still didn’t understand her condition, and when she wanted to have a private talk with me, I obliged. Little did I know: She planned to shoot me, then herself. The fact that my mother could get access to a gun was disheartening. Thankfully, family members found us and calmed her down. I haven’t seen my mother since then, and I miss her every day.
I was a teenager, growing up in a small town in Nevada County, Arkansas. I got pregnant and was pressured into marrying the guy because his family are evangelical Christians. Being 17 at the time, I thought it was the right thing to do. I tried to get out of the marriage many times, due to all the domestic violence. I’d leave, and he would find me and drag me back, sometimes by the head of my hair. I got pregnant with the second kid two years later. I still tried to leave him and his large family. I wouldn’t convert to being a Christian, so I got lots of hate from the family; that made him mad at me. He told me the only way he would grant me divorce is if I cheated on him. He also said that if I cheated on him, he’d shoot me in the head. After suffering for nine years and begging to just let me and my two kids get out, I took another opportunity to escape. I’d had enough of his abuse by that time. He came home pissed, grabbed the 9mm and stuck it down my throat.
My friend and colleague Naire’ seemed unstoppable, until she was murdered during a domestic violence shooting in September 2019. She was a proud and devoted mom to her son Scottie, raising him to know all the complexities of being a Black youth in our country. She was a loyal and steadfast coworker, and she was a fierce supporter of the students at our school in lower Manhattan, where she was a school resource officer. The wall behind her desk in the lobby of our school was full of student photos that she lovingly collected. She knew an astounding number of students from many years, and we sometimes joked that I needed her to make a master list with photos for me to use when students came back for alumnae days.
When I was pregnant with my first child and feeling sick and overwhelmed daily, it was Naire’ who gave me the positivity and hugs that I needed daily. And in the weeks before my daughter was born, hers was the first gift I received at school: a knitted wrap that I now cling to as a reminder of her.
I miss her every day, and I wish for just one more hug.
In 1993, Norma, my niece, was murdered by her husband a few days before their divorce. She was at home with her children when the murder occurred, so her children watched their mom being murdered. Norma was a beautiful, independent, intelligent woman of 29 who wanted a better life for herself and her children. Her violent death by gun has left her family in deep sorrow and shock.