Anonymous

You really don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only option you have left. This is our story.

My fiancé and I were the best of friends. Our bond was unbreakable. He was the most loving human being I have ever met. On a sunny day in 2019, we went and got lunch and were working on house chores. His friend called and asked for his help moving a mattress; as always, he agreed to help. As we pulled into the driveway, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of fear. I didn’t know why.

He went inside, and three men with hoods and masks walked past the car. I tried calling him, but he didn’t answer. Seconds later he came out and was tackled, and then gunshots rang out from each direction. I panicked as I realized he was being shot multiple times and called 911. They took him to the hospital, and that’s where I was told he didn’t make it. My heart and soul died that day. Those images will never leave my mind. I now suffer from severe PTSD, and I’m working every day to heal.

Taylor Dennison

I am Taylor Dennison. A childhood family friend of mine, Eunice Rodriguez, passed away senselessly due to gun violence on June 4. Around 1 a.m., Phoenix police responded to a call about a person with a gun near 43rd Avenue and Indian School Road. Eunice Rodriguez was getting off of work around that time. Her mother had to come pick her up, due to her running out of gas.

Her mother, Eunice Despaigne, saw a man in the roadway covered in blood and stopped her vehicle near him. The man approached the car and attempted to threaten to jack their car. When they refused, he shot a bullet, which grazed my friend’s mother and ended up hitting my friend, Eunice Rodriguez, killing her instantly in the passenger’s seat. Her autistic brother was also in the car.

The man fled the scene and attempted to kidnap another woman. He has been arrested and is facing trial, but despite this, there has been little media coverage. This has been extremely devastating for all of us who love her and for her family. Nothing can heal the pain that we are experiencing but we all want her name known.

LaKeisha Chestnut

William “Will” Burnell was my brother. A fierce force of nature. A loving husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, uncle and friend. A life cut short too soon. Even through we weren’t related by blood, we had a brotherly/sisterly bond: One that stood, even when I lost him that January night.

On January 8, 2016, Will was standing outside of his apartment when a neighbor shot him over an argument. He was shot four times and died at the scene. Even though Will was a gun owner, he didn’t take his gun out to protect himself. He left behind a wife, a daughter, a son, a brand-new granddaughter and a slew of family and friends, including his Olive Garden 1803 family.

I miss him. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss my brother. I fight this fight for him, for his wife and for his family. I don’t want Will to be a statistic. I want people to know his name and never forget it. I want him to be the reason that we have real change in this country. Because no one ever should have to bury someone over an argument. Not me. Not anyone.

Cole

On March 31, 2020, my life changed forever, right before my eyes. The love of my life, my children’s father, was gunned down and died in my arms. Thomas was the life of any party. He was the loving, caring father of three boys and four stepkids. Thomas loved his family. He had a loving, caring heart; there was just something about him that you couldn’t let go.

Thomas was robbed of his life over lies and jealousy; his children now have to continue life without their father. Thomas is very loved and missed. I will forever keep his name alive, as long as I have breath in me.

Arness

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.

Jenna S

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.

Naire’ McCormick

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.

Jim M.

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.

Norma

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.

Jacqueline Elder

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?