I was married to a man that thought using a gun was a great way to control me. It worked for a few years. In that time, he had used me as a punching bag, and I finally left. In that process, I was threatened into leaving my precious son behind, and my ex-husband had threatened to kill one of my sisters and her sons. I never believed he would harm our son, but a couple of years later my ex-husband shot and killed his mother, my son and himself. I have a hard time trusting people. I use to believe everyone was good, but now I’ve become extremely suspicious of almost anyone I meet, and I hate it.
Honestly, I count myself lucky compared with people who have lost their loved ones to gun violence. My babies and aunt were spared the day my ex shot me five times before killing himself. Although I live every day with pain from my wounds, I am so grateful that I survived and got the chance to raise my beautiful children.
During my fight to survive, I decided to name the five bullets in my body after the five elements that helped see me through – FIGHT, FAMILY, FAITH, FORGIVE and FORGET. I think of them as The Power of Five. I’m a positive person, and I try to stay busy and give back to others as much as I can, but I definitely have low days from time to time. When I do, I give myself a day off, and I still turn to the Power of Five for comfort and strength. One day, I hope they will help other people, too.
Starting from the age of seven until I was 14 years old, my mom was physically, verbally and sexually assaulted by my alcoholic stepfather. He was a hunter and had shotguns and ammunition lying unsecured all over the house. He would often threaten to kill her. I couldn’t sleep when I went to my Dad’s house for the weekend and worried all day at school because I thought he would really do it if I wasn’t there to stop him. Sometimes I would collect his guns and hide them under my bed and lock the door.
One time when I was about 10 years old, a friend came over to see me after school. I opened my bedroom door to greet her and she was standing at the end of the hall, holding one of my stepfather’s guns pointed at my chest. “Stick-em up!” she yelled. My 8-year-old brother grabbed her arm and yelled for her to put it down. It’s a miracle that the gun didn’t go off.
As an adult, I have anxiety and PTSD from the abuse. Occasionally, I have flashbacks or nightmares and can still hear my mother’s screams. When someone raises their voice or becomes aggressive with me or another person, I get physically sick.
My sister, Sarah, was shot on September 23, 2012, by her husband of one year. She died on September 27, 2012. Sarah was fiercely protective, loyal, compassionate, admired and loved by many. She was living her authentic life and she encouraged others to do the same simply by loving them for who they are. She gave the most complete hugs to all, laughed easily and loudly, and made the world more beautiful with her presence. She loved animals, she enjoyed reading and she was a talented artist who painted many treasures, among them over 40 portraits of friends and family. She was affectionately given the nickname “Sassy” by her twin brother, Ben, when they were toddlers, and the name stuck into her adulthood.
Friends and family continue to have a gaping hole in their hearts, but we teach our children and those around us to know Sarah through the love she shared and through the everyday reminders of her life on Earth. My sister was about to graduate from Leon’s Beauty School when she was taken from this world. So, my toddler son and our whole family find joy in going to the salon for haircuts. It is a time filled with laughter, attention to self, and the beauty and love my sister saw and brought out in others inside and out. We stroll around the local botanical gardens and enjoy the magic of the butterfly rainforest to feel closer to Sarah. We embrace laughter, hugs, art, costumes, kindness, authenticity, animals, sunshine and the beauty within each of us. My parents go on adventures in the “Sassyfras” Airstream. We Walk-A-Mile in Her Shoes. We Wear Orange to end gun violence. We attend the “Black and Bling” Halloween party each year. We Live, Laugh and Love. Sarah’s legacy and love live on … in these ways and much more.
February 1, 2010, my life was changed forever.
My husband shot and killed my 17-year-old daughter, Olivia, and shot me in the head, shattering my jaw. Now the bullet sits in my right shoulder forever.
My husband was not just physically abusive, he was emotionally abusive. My mission is to tell my story so everyone is aware of the major problem of domestic violence, and let them know a powerful firearm was used to kill my daughter and cause me severe physical and emotional pain for the rest of my life. After the tragic night, the police found a large number of unregistered guns; however, he used a Glock, and unfortunately, that had been a Christmas gift from me, so I live with the guilt for the rest of my life.
A nonprofit called Live for Liv was started to raise money for victims, provide necessities to victims in a local shelter, provide scholarships, and speak at schools, town meetings, Moms Demand Action meetings, to name just a few. Since the first anniversary date, the Ride for Liv/Run for Liv has taken place so we may raise money to help victims, as well as deposit money into an endowment account to provide transitional housing to those in need. My mission is to educate the public, all ages, and have my daughter Olivia remembered.
Ten years ago I became a gun violence survivor when I stared down the barrel of a gun pointed at me by my spouse when we were in an argument. At the time, though I had been in an abusive relationship for years, I had wrongly believed he would never cross that line. Today, I still live with a little bit of extra fear – for myself and my children — but I have taken all the steps I can to regain control of those things I can in my life.
However, trusting others (especially men) and the possibility of a romantic relationship are two things that I think I will never experience in the same way again in my life. I even fear for my two daughters and their futures with men, knowing the statistics and now having been through this. I add extra locks to my doors each time we move, and check them multiple times each night before heading to bed. When I am driving around, I am constantly checking the rearview mirror to see if I may be followed. In parking lots I am always thinking of my escape plan, should I need one. I keep a grab bag at home and have planned with my kids our escape route, should we need it. These are just the realities and rituals now of my everyday life that have become normal for me.
My daughter Sarah was a vivacious, loving, artistic, charming young woman. Without hesitation, she embraced people of all kinds, appreciating their beauty and forgiving their flaws. Sadly, she fell in love with the person who would eventually steal her from us, with his firearm.
On the night that my daughter Sarah Browder told her abusive husband that she was leaving, she fled and made it across the street before he put a bullet through her second vertebra, and another through her shoulder. He then turned then killed himself and died instantly. Both of them lay on the sidewalk until someone who heard the shots was able to rush to their sides to try to help. Sarah spent the last five days of her life in the ICU, unable to speak, move, or breath on her own, stolen by a violent man who was able to easily acquire a gun without submitting to a criminal background check.
My family and I were left shaken and numbed in 2012 by both my daughter’s death and the Sandy Hook Massacre shortly thereafter. Looking for a way forward to lessen our grief, we devoted ourselves to educating others about the dynamics of domestic violence and about gun violence in America. We wanted people to know what we had not know — that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide five times. It made no sense that in our country, with all its resources, women are 21 times more likely to die by gun homicide than women in other developed nations, or that our Congress has been paralyzed by any suggestion that legislation could make us safer.
It is imperative that our leaders address the health crisis that gun violence represents in our country and take action to stop it. We demand that Congress honor the wishes of ninety percent of Americans who want a criminal background check on every gun sale, and we urge Congress to pass extreme risk protection order laws that would permit the confiscation of firearms from anyone at risk of hurting themselves or others.
It is within our power to achieve greater safety for our communities.. Surely gun safety is an issue that touches the hearts of all citizens and can unite us in hope and compassion. Our time is nigh. We are within reach of saving countless lives with gun sense legislation, while we continue to honor the memories of those stolen from us and to offer comfort to the vast number of survivors among us.
On July 13, 1978, a few days after my 1st birthday, my mother was shot during a fight with my father. After years of domestic violence, my mother took a shotgun out of the closet in an attempt to defend herself. My father grabbed the gun and it went off inside the home, hitting the wall above my crib. She ran out of the house and he chased her, hitting her in the back with 8 shots. Luckily, the fire department and paramedics were able to get her to the hospital where she remained for over four months, enduring multiple surgeries. She nearly died, and I went to live with my Grandma.
I was too young to remember the incident, but I grew up studying her scars and experiencing the trauma of surviving gun violence. The ripple effects of firearms in the hands of an abuser extend far beyond the intimate relationship — affecting children.
Finding out the truth formed my views on guns. They do not keep you safe. And bringing one into the home puts women at a higher risk. Her scars are my scars.
I narrowly survived being shot by my husband. I survived his suicide. Our children survived as witnesses. I survived my trauma and navigating my children through their trauma and grief journeys. I survived burying the beliefs of who I trusted him to be as I faced the undeniable truths of who he was, a controlling man who believed he had the right to use the guns he kept for our “protection” to murder me.
I cannot say that survival is any more than a day-to-day proposition. There is no mastery over trauma and PTSD after violence, no arrival at the day when it is left squarely behind.
Even within my hopefulness and optimism, a darkness lies, and only a sound, an event, a stress, fatigue, open the door for it to emerge. I suspect anyone who has survived violence experiences the same, it’s just not something we talk openly about. Perhaps in our minds to acknowledge it gives it too much space to expand; perhaps we want to pretend it isn’t there and we can be who we were before. But I’m not the person I was before. She is gone, and the aftermath of gun violence, with its physical, emotional and financial reminders, are what I am left to re-create her with.
I was forced to become acutely aware of how dangerous guns are in the hands of a domestic abuser, and how easy it is for a convicted abuser or criminal to legally get their hands on a gun. I was forced to learn there were loopholes that paved the way for my loved one’s murderer to legally get a gun, even though he was a convicted criminal. It never occurred to me such options existed for someone who should never have easy and legal access to get one, because the concept was – and still is, irresponsible.
Today I carry the frustration of knowing those same loopholes still exist 31 years after my family’s nightmare – and around 60 women, children, siblings, parents, neighbors, co-workers and first responders are shot to death every month by a domestic abuser because of those loopholes. My entire gun-owning family didn’t know this reality existed. We also bought into the idea that we will always be able to protect our family or ourselves. Today, I fully understand that no one can be two places at one time in order to be able to protect our loved ones, and if someone is intent on harming you, they are 10 steps ahead, and you don’t even have time to draw your weapon.
Through my own family’s experience and the countless experiences of so many others I have met over the years, we were forced to come to the understanding that prevention begins at the point of sale, and we know the value of common-sense gun laws.
My life is much different now, as I use every opportunity to promote safe storage and common sense to help save lives, because I never want anyone else to ever know the hell of gun violence.