A survivor of domestic violence and someone who was threatened to be killed with a gun, my mother was shot by my father. She survived the attack because as the gun was pointed to her head, she knocked it away and was shot in her leg. My first cousin was also shot and killed by her husband, who then shot himself in 1999. My organization A-Way-Out Ministries, Inc. helps to end domestic violence.
Denton Odynsky was one of my best friends. He was an incredible musician and recording artist who self-recorded hours upon hours of amazing original music in his basement studio over the last year of his life. He was the type of person who was naturally talented at anything he attempted: Photography? Painting? Building his own guitars? He could do it all. Additionally, Denton was dedicated to studying sociology and worked hard to help people with disabilities.
On November 23, 2008, Denton died by suicide at the age of 25. Over the years, he was plagued by mental health crises and received multiple treatments that should have been a red flag on any background check. While Denton was never a danger to anyone but himself, his history of suicidal ideation and treatments were well-documented.
The heartbreak of losing Denton has never gone away after 12 years without him. We wonder how his music would’ve evolved, what his career would be, if he would have started a family. The world lost someone special, that’s for sure.
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.
Chris was the most alive person I had ever met. Being the recipient of his smile was like being in the sun. A streetwise New York kid complete with the accent, he found a home in Orlando. He loved talking to people and hearing their stories.
His laughter was infectious beyond belief. In one of the best days of my life, we went to see a “B-movie” called Grindhouse. He laughed out loud, so hard, at every joke that within 10 minutes, the entire theater was in hysterics. Soon, everyone was just waiting for him to laugh, not caring about the movie at all.
Chris was at Pulse nightclub the night of the terror attack. He saved two lives that night pushing strangers over the back fence before escaping himself. Three months to the day later, he died of a brain aneurysm, no doubt related to the trauma and stress he went through. I never realized that a bullet can kill you without hitting you.
His love and laughter lives on in the hearts of all who knew him, but we miss him every single day. Chris, we love you.
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.
My friend Susan was one of the first people in my life to complete suicide. She was 38 years old, an attorney, a therapist and a mother of five kids. A complicated divorce led to a custody battle, and Susan shot herself with a shotgun because of the stress of the custody battle.
It was the first time that I considered the psychic pain she must have experienced and her decision to end that pain. I did not have contact with her in the year leading up to her suicide, and I was shocked and sad when I heard that she had died. When I heard more of the complicated details of what she was dealing with, I thought that would be a tough one for me to deal with in my own life.
That was over 20 years ago, and I myself am now a suicide attempt survivor. My friendship with Susan helped me understand what drove her to shoot herself.
Guns are too available, and when folks are suicidal, they are so impulsive. Guns are easy to get, they work pretty darn well. Can we not get rid of them? Please?
Survivors of gun violence intimately know that sharing one’s personal experience is a hard but necessary part of healing from trauma. I know this personally after losing my niece. She was senselessly murdered by someone she met two weeks prior on a dating site, who should not have had a gun or been on the streets.
I still find it hard to believe and am not so sure I can agree when people tell me that it “gets easier” or that “time heals all wounds or that “everything happens for a reason.” The pain and heartache that each one of my family members has had to—and still has to— endure continues to take my breath away. This horrible, tragic nightmare continues to be and will always be my family’s reality.
Fifty-eight percent of American adults or someone they care for have experienced gun violence in their lifetime. It could be any of us!
I will never stop fighting for you … I will continue to be your voice! I am absolutely heartbroken and filled with so many tears … this is so unfair!
Auntie Rob’s loves and misses you, Em’s.
When I was six years old, my maternal grandfather was shot and killed in a robbery in his small grocery store in St. Louis. What I remember about this sad incident was finding my mom crying in her bedroom and wondering what was wrong. I later learned about my grandfather’s death from my mother.
What makes the story even sadder is that my mom was estranged from her parents because she married my dad, who was Catholic. She came from an Orthodox Jewish family. Her mother could not accept her marriage choice and refused to see her. My grandfather was able to secretly see my mom a few times before his death, along with a visit to meet my sister and me. I don’t remember this visit but felt his loss as I learned more about him. He emigrated here from Russia as a young man to escape enforced conscription. His marriage to my grandmother, who was 20 years younger, was arranged. He was self-taught and gave my mother her love of literature and reading. He was also a very kind man who loved his daughter. I wish I could have known him.
He is a grandson, son, brother, cousin, nephew, uncle, father, grandfather, friend, husband.
He is caring, the tall man that wraps his arms around his mother and Nana.
He is funny—so funny that I still remember having sore cheeks when my Nana dropped me off from our weekends together.
He is protective, the father of three daughters who need him and deserve him everyday.
He is brave, the courage that his two younger brothers have only been able to experience for a portion of their young lives.
We remember you as these qualities everyday. You are not a victim of senseless violence to us. You are more than a folder in someone’s drawer to us. Although it was cut short, your life matters to us, still, everyday. I’m unsure if it hurts worse that after 20 years, your murder has remained unsolved, and that it’s been unspoken of by law enforcement for at least 15 years. But I do know that it’s not right and means to me that they don’t care.
The chain is broken, but we heal everyday. We are grateful for the time we have had with you, but we miss and love you every moment we are without you.
Benjamin Edwin DeWillis, we love you and remember you … I miss you everyday, Cuz.
I’ll never forget that last night we went to karaoke, and you said, “I had a good last hurrah.” It struck me as odd at the time, and I knew things were dark for you, but I genuinely thought I could help you in your time of need. In the two weeks that followed, I called and texted, but you never called back. Finally, I went to Facebook, and that’s how I found out that you had killed yourself.
I had nightmares for weeks, until I finally made contact with a family member. They didn’t actually seem to care, but at least I stopped dreaming of all the ways you could have done it. I realized the way you went about things was deliberate, well-planned and executed; I never stopped wondering if I missed something, or if you would still be alive without that gun.
I miss you, I still cry and I’m passionate about pushing for gun reform, so that no one ever has to find out from Facebook that their friend is dead, like I did.