Jen’s Dad

Jennifer was a senior in high school when her ex-boyfriend killed her with a firearm.

Although, as an engaged parent, I was aware of many of the “talks” that I should have with Jen in order to guide her to adulthood, I simply did not know about the prevalence of teen dating violence or the reality of its dangers.

And so I had “talks” with Jen about smoking, about strangers, about hitchhiking, about drinking and driving, about sex, about so many things. But not about the warning signs of an abusive relationship, not about the ubiquity of firearms, not about the use of firearms by abusers to exert control.

As Jen was my only child when I lost her, I also lost my identity as a parent — as “Dad” — and so I started a small nonprofit charity in her name to alert other parents to the painful realities of teen dating violence. Jennifer Ann’s Group is focused on the prevention of dating violence among young people.

Jennifer Ann’s Group now publishes serious video games about teen dating violence because we believe that it is a great approach to reaching young people and addressing serious issues. We produce, publish and research serious games about serious issues in order to engage and educate young people, their parents and educators.

Over time, these games in her name have been translated into several languages, have been the focus of published research, and have been played by young people around the world.

We do this in Jen’s name so that she will continue to have a voice and a presence — to do some of the good in the world that I know she would have done, had she been given a chance.

I do this so other parents will know this is another important “talk” to have with their child.

I do this because I do not know what else to do.

I do this so I can still be Jen’s Dad.

Forlesia Cook

Marty William McMillan Jr. was 22 years old, beginning his manhood. He was my grandson and the love of my life. He was shot seven times and left in the woods like trash and not found for six months. We received his remains, and now he is in an urn in my living room. I cry every day, I hurt every day. The person who killed him was 42 years old.

My grandson met a girl on a dating site and went to visit her and was killed by her boyfriend. I am fighting for justice for him and others in my area. My grandson did not deserve to be treated that way and was not doing anything wrong to be killed that way.

If we don’t fight against these laws and killers who use guns for such horrendous ways, then what will this world become? How are these kids and people getting these guns and nothing is being done about this from Congress and our legislators? I fight for this to change.

Anonymous

Tenth grade. I was 15. Monday morning, my best friend didn’t show up for school. Didn’t come in Tuesday, either, or the rest of the week. Some time over the next weekend, her body floated up in the canal, bloated and decayed and so damaged that they only identified her by her jewelry. Her boyfriend had shot her in a rage. She was 16; he 18.

So many lives destroyed by one act.

Martha Omilian

Around midnight on October 18, 1999, my daughter, Maggie, with her bright future, was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend in a dorm room on the campus of Kalamazoo College in her hometown. She was supposed to be safe so close to home. But she, and we, her parents, did not know that she was in the most danger when she ended the relationship. He emotionally abused her, but not physically. He insulted her friends and monitored what she did on that small campus. He was angry, and he bought a gun at a local gun store. After snuffing out her brightness, he took his own life.

For 20 years, we have honored Maggie with action. We kept her room just as it was that last night she spent there, with her clothes in the closet, dresser with jewelry, her last paycheck uncashed, shirts and hair ties. And her scent was in that room. It was a place of solace when things got rough, a place to reflect and smell her.

Three years ago, we decided it was time to change her bedroom. We donated clothes, tore up the carpet, painted the walls, laid a new floor and put a few precious things in a box in the closet. But her scent, her smell, is gone. We sit in Maggie’s new room now, watching TV and talking, sometimes about her. We have no grandchildren on our lap to show them Maggie’s childhood memories. We do have our vivid memories of her beautiful spirit.

Anonymous

When I was 14, I was in a toxic relationship. My boyfriend at the time lived with a number of mental health issues and had easy access to his father’s firearms. He often threatened to harm himself when we fought – going so far as to tell me the feeling of holding his father’s (loaded) gun against his head. The manipulation reached a point where I feared leaving him or even saying no to him because I was not sure how he would react. Though he never physically harmed me, the mental, emotional and sexual manipulation left me feeling trapped both by him and by past traumas. My relationship often reminded me of a close family friend who was murdered by their partner when I was 10, and I was terrified of what would happen if I ever crossed a line with him.

Ever since this relationship, I have struggled to be vulnerable with partners and, due to the manipulation I experienced in my first relationship, I also struggle with issues of consent. My first partner made me feel as though I owed him something in our relationship, and (even six years later) I struggle to remind myself that my consent and happiness matters. I am lucky to have a support network in my family and friends that has helped me move past this experience. I am now able to find empowerment in healthy relationships and in advocating for other survivors of abusive, manipulative and toxic relationships.

Alex Monroe

My brothers and I spent almost every summer on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi during our childhood. Summers filled with crawfish boils and surprise sour candies from Uncle Lynn, studying Aunt Elaine’s process for the perfect potato salad, and singing and dancing in my aunt’s living room with my cousin Nell.

But when I was 10 years old, my funny and vibrant cousin was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend. She was 16. After Nell was shot and killed, my Mississippi summers were never the same. A sadness set in that remains even today, 24 years later. I hear it — still in her voice when I talk to Nell’s sister. I saw it — still in my aunt’s eyes the last time I visited. And I feel it — in my chest as I write about Nell now.

Since Nell was killed, my uncle Bryant and cousin Xavier have also been shot and killed. Gun violence doesn’t stop with the bullet that takes our loved ones. Its remnants keep piercing those of us who are left to survive the memories. And with the hope that our stories help change hearts, we do survive.