More than 40 years ago, I ducked into a phone booth in Istanbul and called my family. I hadn’t seen them in almost a year. We had kept in touch through infrequent letters as I worked odd jobs and traveled in southern Europe and the Middle East. That phone conversation changed the course of my life.

I learned that my brother had shot himself in the head, but had survived. Suicide, however tragic, offers a grim finality. A failed attempt involving a gun injury to the brain carries another kind of death. His extensive paralysis and brain damage destroyed the brother I had known. The years that followed were extremely difficult, as I attempted to find my footing as a young adult. When he died in surgery 12 years later, the grief that had been building for years was overwhelming.

Too many families each year are traumatized by the aftermath of suicide and suicide attempts. Nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides. Guns that are properly stored can act as a deterrent to someone in an acute mental health crisis. If you believe you must own a gun, please follow gun safety practices.

Benjamin Rose

When I was 16, my life changed forever. I lost one of my older brothers to an unexpected episode of gun violence. Ben died by suicide. Although my family was relatively large–I was the second youngest of six children–I had become very close with Ben in the years leading up to this moment. I never knew, until that moment, that it was possible to experience such pain, let alone endure it. Our family, some of which was now spread across the country, was shattered within mere minutes, and it seemed we had little else but each other to lean on. While our hearts seemed irreparable, we also experienced the transformative reforging of our familial bonds. It was a resolute and indomitable love that we found ourselves expressing, almost unconsciously. Our faith community descended upon us, bumbling yet well intentioned. This brought some small comforts, but also significant challenges. Seven years on, I am still learning, every day, how to allow myself to grieve on my own terms. Not a day goes by that I don’t remember Ben. Quick to anger but even quicker to laugh and to love. Full of confusion but also of generosity and kindness.


My “baby” brother was a brilliant scientist and an innovative and very popular teacher. When he reached his early 40s, he prepared a place in his garage, lay down there, stuck his newly acquired pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger. In spite of all the careful precautions he took to avoid having our parents find him, they were the first to encounter his messy death.

Not a week goes by that I don’t reach for the phone to talk with him about something puzzling me. We didn’t always agree, but his intellect always shined a light on whatever we discussed.

My brother was a brilliant teacher. He created a presentation about physics and music that he was asked to give for the general public every year. I never got to attend one, and now I never will have that pleasure. It’s a regret I have frequently.

He decided at one time that he wanted to play piano, never having had lessons. He taught himself by learning to play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which he then performed for us. I was there when he did it. That piece is famously difficult to play, to the point of requiring a performer’s prodigious talent.

Dessie Johnson

My twin brother, Oscar Johnson the 3rd, was shot in his room by a friend. He left the family in shock: How did this happen? I was very full of anger. I didn’t know what to do. Till this day I’m still angry. This happened May, 2, 2018.

Sylvester Gum Jr

My oldest brother, Sylvester Gum Jr., was murdered. He was shot in the chest twice with an illegal, unregistered gun. I was home on summer break from college. Our lives changed that summer of ’85. Nothing was ever the same because my oldest brother — my encourager, my best friend and our family provider — was dead. I remember the grief and sorrow of that horrible day. My mom had a grief breakdown. My dad was silent and prayed. My oldest brother was kind-spirited, generous and family-oriented. He never got a chance to see four small children grow up or me, his baby sister. He told everyone in the community that I was going become a teacher; he was so proud of me because I was the first to attend college in our family. I’ve only shared my story a few times with friends, but I feel the heartache of the sorrow, like it just happened, every time someone’s family is affected by gun violence.

Alex Zuban

My sister Kate was my best friend. She was just two years older, and we grew up together. Just like all sisters, we played house, made up dances in the living room, played sports together, and were in the same schools all our lives. Kate was 33 when she was shot in the head while sitting on a bench with her friend in the Cleveland Metropark at 5:08 p.m. on June 4, 2019. They have not found their murderer.

Kate was a dynamic, caring, humorous person without a single enemy. Kate’s first CDs were No Doubt, Coolio and Alice in Chains; I use that description to explain how she loved everything. In this past year, my family and I can’t fathom why someone would want to harm our Kate. Not a day goes by that I don’t long to see her.

Eventually, when our wounds are a bit more “healed,” I plan to inspire change in Metropark mandates to have more cameras and license-plate readers on all their entrances. Whoever was wielding the gun on June 4, 2019, is still out there, and we need a change so that person can never have access to a gun.

Emma Bethea

My brother’s life was taken, not by a stranger but by someone that he knew, in March 2019. He had a heart of gold and was loved by so many people. His life will live on forever. Please put down the gun.

Linda Ison

Mary Stallard Ison was the second victim in this story told by her daughters and sons, and by me to my sons. She loved all her 13 children equally. She would stay up nights making little shirts out of flour sacks and holding one baby’s feet to make them straight. She was smart enough to help the high school boys with their math, even though she only went through the eighth grade.

She was very quiet. To me, there was a sadness about her. It turned out that Earl, her firstborn son, had been killed in a hunting accident when he was 35. He lived at home at the time.

Emotions were not expressed freely, so she took them to the barn. When she would milk the cows, she would talk to Earl. She would always start with, “Oh Lord, Earl.” This cycle lasted until she was old and had to go to the hospital, and her daughters encouraged her not to talk with Earl while she was there.

When my firstborn son wanted a BB gun, I would say, “Remember Uncle Earl,” so he would live.

Kathi Aker

One of my nephews, 24, my beloved only sister, 49, and one of my precious brothers, 64, all killed themselves using guns.

My family had reason to believe that my nephew, Cord, was perhaps experiencing the emergence of schizophrenia due to things he said to his girlfriend and people at work before his death.

My sister, Lisa, was diagnosed with bipolar depression in her late teens and battled her demons all her life, with intermittent intervention from professionals and treatment with medication. Her HMO had just changed her meds, due to cost concerns, before her death.

My brother, Franz, had been forced out of a lifetime of service in the U.S. Navy after 19 years, saving the government pension costs. He was being treated for Seasonal Affective Disorder, but, we learned after his death, he had stopped taking his medication.

I have been suicidal and self-harming and am currently in prolonged remission from severe depression due to strong medical support and proper medication. I believe if I’d had access to a gun, I might not be here.


Our father committed suicide in 1972, and honestly, the shock of that horribleness never left either one of us. Karl went from a blond, giggling child to a child fascinated by danger and destruction. As we grew to adulthood, we spent very little time together. About a month before Karl died by suicide with a gun, he invited me to go bar-hopping with him in Portland, Maine — our hometown. I agreed, as long as I drove. He knew everyone in these bars, and in every bar he was served free drinks. At the last place, he looked me straight in the eye, something he rarely did, and said, “Have you ever thought about what he was thinking when he did it?” I had to stop this topic because he was drunk, the bar was loud, and I was tired. We drove home in silence. I left to go back to graduate school in New York City, and he went back to his junior year at the University of Maine, Orono. One month later, Karl put on his Marine dress blues, drove to his fraternity in his car, and shot himself in the head.