Jeanelle Cornelius

On June 22, 2018, I saw my son’s smiling face for the last time. We ate a meal together, and he left to go out with friends. My daughter and I walked him to the door. He smiled at me and told me he would be back early the next day. On June 23, I awoke to the police at my door at around 2 a.m. Brandon had been shot. My beautiful son, who’d just turned 25 in May, had been shot “multiple times” and died from his injuries. My hopes and dreams went with him.

My boy had finished his time in the Army National Guard. He was doing well at work and had been approved for a home loan. He wanted to start a family. All of our lives were turned upside down that night. In the blink of an eye, some unknown people shot him. Now my family and I are trying to pick up the pieces. Brandon owned a fire arm, and I am not opposed to Second Amendment rights, but there needs to be more gun control. That might not have saved my boy, but it would certainly spare a lot of other parents the same pain.

Brandi Locke

In 2016, my husband, an Army veteran with four deployments, experienced difficulty processing his experiences and finding his identity outside of the military. One evening, I returned home with my children. As we entered our home, all of the lights were off. We were met by my husband, with an AK-47 strapped around his body. In a very serious voice, he informed me that there were people outside our home. With my coaxing, he returned the AK-47 to his locked gun safe but emerged carrying a bayonet, moving in stealthy motions throughout the home.

Eventually, that evening, the bayonet was exchanged for a pistol. He slept on our sofa with the pistol resting on his chest. I spent the night with my children, locked in a bedroom, terrified, questioning what action would be in the best interest of my children and my husband.

Ultimately, our marriage ended.

Today I continue to experience nightmares about that night. I awaken with the same fear, three years after the event. My thoughts about guns and gun legislation have changed. I hope that U.S. citizens will work cooperatively to legislate changes that make sense and create more security for everyone.

Anonymous

My uncle Joe came back from Vietnam a changed man, with a drug addiction and a bad case of undiagnosed PTSD. When I was little, he called me his favorite belated birthday present, and on his good days loved my sister and I so good. We would watch cartoons and eat breakfast on his visits to the house. We didn’t know at the time that his extended absence was due to self-medicating and a heroin addiction to avoid dealing with PTSD.

One afternoon on a boat during a fishing trip, my uncle Joe decided he had enough. He swallowed the barrel of a shotgun and ended his troubled life.

Our family changed that day in ways that none of us grasp over 20 years later.

Cheyenne

At 16, I lost my father, U.S. Army veteran, John, to suicide. Now 24, I am getting married this week, during Suicide Awareness Month, on his birthday, September 7. My father was mentally unwell, not only from battle, but from bipolar disorder as well. A man that unstable should not have had access to guns, yet our house was stocked with them. It makes me angry that if gun reform and mental health were prominently addressed in this country, by our government, my father would be able to walk me down the aisle this week.

Dolly Griggs

My only son Christian loved his family, his daughter Jaden and life. He was not only a remarkable son; he was a veteran who served our country honorably and heroically in Iraq. He survived war just to come home and be gunned down for being a father to his daughter. On October 12, 2013, Christian went to pick up Jaden, as he’d planned for months. He called his father, stating that his father-in-law was using profanity at him. Upon my husband’s arrival five minutes later, he found Christian lying face-down on the porch. His father-in-law had stood over him, fatally shooting him in the back, just inches beneath tattoos with a star, roses and script—”Forever young”” on one side and “Jaden” on the other.

Christian made this keepsake in elementary school, and he was so proud of it. He stored everything he held close to his heart in this box. A picture of Jaden is in there. He loved and treasured her with all his heart.

Courtney

Dwayne was everyone’s favorite person. He was the pride of our family. He was handsome, funny and smart. He was the brother that my brother never had. He was like a second son to my father. We were beyond proud when he enlisted in the Army and when he married his wife Makiala. They had four children. Dwayne, however, suffered from PTSD after leaving the Army and was being treated. He told his doctor and his father-in-law that his perception of reality was blurred. Early on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 2011 he took the life of his wife Makiala and then he took his own life. Dwayne should not have had access to guns, and a Red Flag law would have allowed his father-in-law or doctor to have his weapons removed for his own safety.

As a family, we are left trying to reconcile the charismatic person we knew with his final act. We are left trying to explain to his children why they were orphaned. We are left with two empty places at our table every Thanksgiving.

Temple Hiatt

I come from a large family, and I grew up tending to my four nephews. I enjoyed entertaining them during the holidays and babysitting them in the summer.

In 1991, I served in the first Gulf War as a member of the Army Military Police. I have a very clear memory of a moment when my unit was under a serious potential threat. My last thoughts were that my nephews would be taken care of and how much I would miss seeing them grow up.

Some 23 years later, my nephew Phillip died by gun suicide. One of my closest friends was his neighbor, and she called me while the ambulance was still in his driveway. I was the one that notified my family members.

Phil was 33 years old and had just returned from a vacation with family and was planning to propose to his girlfriend. The day that he took his life, he had reached out to to ask about a family history of mental illness. No one will ever know what his mindset was because, with a stroke of the trigger, his life was over. I often wonder about the unanswered questions: What happened? What was he experiencing? Could I have been a better resource for him? I will forever remember Phil’s infectious laugh, his warmth and his ability to put others at ease.

To be able to write about this as part of the Moments That Survive project is very important to me. Until recently, I had not thought of myself as a gun violence survivor, and now it is clear that I am. As a veteran, I am very aware of the impact mental illness plays in suicides. It is important that we make space for people to talk about their fears and concerns. We must also hold our elected officials accountable for providing the necessary support to our local communities by fully funding mental illness and enacting Red Flag laws.

Judy Thomas

In 2006, I was walking to my car from the train station here in the Bay Area of San Francisco. I was surrounded by three guys who put a gun to my head and told me they were going to kill me if I moved. I moved anyway. A fight occurred, they beat me in the head severely and tried to murder me. The third time I went down, I saw stars and thought I might not live if they hit one more time. I am a military veteran! That soldier in me woke up, saved my life along with the mercy of almighty God! It forever changed my life!

I have been permanently disabled ever since. Had to even give my up-and-coming Macy’s career in the buying office of San Francisco. Been under the care of both psychiatrists and medicine for brain issues, including PTSD. Not to mention the physical effects I still deal with…

I am a trained as soldier; I believe in reasonable gun control. And as a hunter, you don’t need a magazine-type weapon to kill while hunting. And if you don’t eat what you kill, well, you’re not a true hunter, anyway!! I even have a service dog. Life is always worth living, but it has been a challenge to protect my rights and help educate the rest of you, who have no CLUE!

YOU TOO CAN BE THE FLOWER IN THE GUN!!

Join us all, pray hard that next, it’s not you in my shoes!

Terrie Alvarez

My husband, Phillip Kerrigan, had been one of my closest and dearest friends for a few years. He was in the Navy, stationed at the Brunswick Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Maine. Eventually he was discharged and moved to Maryland. I really missed him very much after he left. I eventually moved to Boston, and somehow he tracked me down a few years later. I was so very happy to hear from him again. We met, had dinner and I knew then that he was the person for me.

We got married shortly, and I moved to Maryland. When I got pregnant with our second child, Phillip got a job at Sherwin Williams in Riverdale. On November 9, 1969, I was six months pregnant, and Phillip’s boss asked him to come in for a few hours— I came home from work and Phillip was not home, which was strange since I had the car (we only had one car). I tried to call Sherwin Williams to see if, perhaps, he had worked longer hours, but the line was always busy and I could not get through. A short time later, as I was getting my daughter ready to drive to Sherwin Williams, I heard a knock on the door and opened the door to find a police officer and another gentleman who introduced himself a Catholic priest. The officer told me that there had been an accident, and I remember telling him that this could not be since I had the car. They finally told me that Phillip had been shot during an armed robbery and had died on the way to the hospital. All I remember is that I wanted to run as fast as I could because if I did run this did not happen. The next few days were a blur.

After the funeral, I ended moving back to Maine, where my family was, until my son was born. That was the hardest time of my life. I needed to work, but having a sitter for two children would take my entire paycheck. When my son was a year and a half, I moved back to Maryland, since the job prospects and salaries were better than in Maine. My son had a very hard time not knowing his father. When other children would ask him where his father was, he would tell them that his parents were divorced. Later on, he told me that if he told them his dad died, he would have to say how he died, and that was too painful for him.