Jitka Vesel

Jitka, Jitty, my dear friend and copilot of 28 years, was senselessly murdered by her stalker: a man who crossed the border from Canada, found and purchased a gun online. It’s a gun he never should have had, a loophole in our laws that took the life of my sister by choice. Every day I miss her; every holiday, birthday, celebration is tarnished by the empty chair at my table and empty space in my heart. I fought then to see her killer brought to justice. I fight today to get sensible gun safety legislation enacted — to stop the flood of blood, to save broken bodies, broken hearts and ended lives.

Jitty, I will carry your laughter, your humor and your kindness with me always.

Saleh Kassabieh

I was a freshman in high school. Fourteen years old. I was a little punk weirdo with only a handful of friends. For some reason, Saleh was my friend.

He was an anomaly in high school. Never hid behind the school and smoked cigarettes like me and my best friend did. But he would still hang out with us. Never identified with any particular group. Jocks liked him. Hip-hop kids liked him. Burnouts and preps. So fun, so friendly, so cool. Invite him to your party, he’d show up. He loved the big booming systems everyone at the time was installing in their car. The heavier the bass, the better.

So when a kid that was a friend of a friend asked if he wanted to come check out his new system, he, being the guy he was, of course said yes. A short time later this almost 16-year-old kid would emerge from his parents’ garage as 14 year old Saleh and his best friend sat in the front seats, point a gun at my friend, and pull the trigger, killing him. He was free two years later when he turned 18.

Stephanie

The fire department was in our yard. I had let a fire go too far — a grass fire. The yard was still thick with smoke. Flames were still trying to circle out from the black swath they had already claimed.

I had been ignoring my mother’s phone calls. I finally relented.

Her cousin’s daughter had been shot in the head. I had just sent her a baby gift: muslin blankets, a turtle night-light. Her baby son was also in the car; her father was also in the car. They were okay. She was not.

I had a baby son inside my womb then. I think of her often. She should be here, too. She should be here mothering, too.

Aunt Weezie

My Aunt Louise was so beautiful. So full of life. Full of everything.

An unmatched free spirit whose acts of compassion became legendary.

The Flag Majorette in the Alabama Million Dollar Marching Band.

She loved huskies, purple and bears.

So concerned for the horses housed on a nearby military base, she freed them.

One afternoon she pulled into a gas station, stood on the corner and announced, “Come get FREE gas!”

She handed over her ATM card, and the fuel flowed.

A concerned clerk called the bank and found my uncle. Displeased, he told her to stop.

The gas was cut off, and my Aunt Louise was so angry that she gave the next person in line my uncle’s Porsche.

Aunt Louise was magical.

Aunt Louise was bipolar.

On January 10, 2017, my Aunt Louise sent my uncle out to walk their dog.

She stepped outside, into the front yard of their new home and shot herself in the head.

My Aunt Louise should have NEVER had access to a firearm and ammunition.

She FOUGHT EVERYDAY to SURVIVE her bipolar disorder.

And with that firearm in hand,
all her struggles,
all her accomplishments,
all her magic was gone.

GONE in ONE MANIC MOMENT!

Leslie Anne washington

In 2015, I watched alongside my family as the police could not solve the murder of my cousin Keith, who was shot and killed, gunned down three years ago coming home. We as a family still do not know who or why this happened. Keith was outgoing and loved life.  He left behind children. I will never get more memories of sitting at Grandma’s house for hours with my cousin, but I will fight for common sense gun safety laws that can prevent other families from experiencing the same pain as mine and other survivors’. I will continue to do everything in my power to end gun violence.

Harold Jones III

Death has no favorites. It comes suddenly, with no compassion. My nephew, Harold Jones III, whom I held in my hands as a baby, who followed behind me countless times down to the corner store, and whom I had just seen the week before, was gunned down in Kissimmee, Florida, last year. His murder was gut-wrenching to our close-knit family. It was something we had never dealt with, and it was something we hope to never again feel. People deserve to grow older and live their lives to the fullest. Life is not supposed to be taken and discarded.

Gun violence has been so ingrained in our society that we have just become accustomed to it. We have become numb to the violence. I can hear my nephew telling me, “Auntie, you know I love you.” He towered over me, and when we hugged, all I got was chest. It was our ritual, every time I saw him. I watched my wedding video last week. I could see him walking in and taking his seat before the ceremony. I only wish I could hug him now.

Brett Sabo

My Uncle Alan struggled with mental illness for years. He bought a gun. He figured out when the shifts changed at the hospital near a park. He sat on a bench and shot himself.

I remember being called to the nurse’s office in high school and being told. When I got home, my father (Alan’s youngest brother) was quietly sitting on a hammock outside. Devastated by anger and sadness. Abandoned by his hero.

We adored Alan: his piano playing, his white buck shoes and his ability to keep his brothers close. That all disappeared when he did.

Pamela Weese Powell

On August 25, 2017, my stepson, Dakota Powell, died by suicide by putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger. We found him in his bed in a sea of blood. He was 26.

Dakota was 6’4” and had a huge wing span that could wrap me in a hug that engulfed my whole being. Sometimes he smelled really bad! Dakota suffered from Major Depressive Disorder and he often wouldn’t shower for days when he felt really low. He refused treatment, and because he was 26, there was little we could do to force him to get help. He got angry with us, but we continued to love him and allow him to try to work through it as he asked us to.

We spent hours sitting, listening, watching bad TV, eating great food that he made, playing dominos, and talking about his future. He was about to buy a beautiful building where he would live, practice his art of blowing glass, and teach underprivileged kids the art he so loved. Then he ended his life with a gun that sat in my closet ignored, unlocked and to this day and for the rest of my life will haunt me.

Sudan Kelly

On June 24, 2018, I lost my grandson Leon Bennett to senseless gun violence in Jacksonville Beach. This has changed my life forever. I stay strong for his two sons, their mother, my daughter, his brothers, his sister, nieces and nephews, and many family members and friends who mourn his loss. My daughter is now involved with Moms Demand Action and is working to find a resolution to end this gun violence. Leon, Nana misses you and loves you very much. Until that day that we meet again, you’re my angel.

Anne R.

I never met my maternal grandfather because he committed suicide by gun four years before I was born. Although I knew he had died before I was born, my mother felt unable to share his cause of death with me until I was in my 20s. There is so much stigma about suicide and mental illness that information is often withheld from family members. Despite being deprived of knowing my grandfather, I have seen photos and heard stories about him from family and friends. There are so many questions I wish I could ask him. There will always be a hole in my heart because he died by gun before we could meet.