My Son’s Childhood Friend Premeditated His Brutal Shooting Death

Tom McMahon FOC_meta image

My son, Joe, was a gentle giant. At 24, he was just under 6-feet-6-inches tall and a talented athlete. But Joe was much more than that: he had a kind soul that attracted a wide spectrum of people including “jocks,” “gamers,” artists, and others. It was July of 2015, and Joe was living with his mom with two sisters, Gracie and Maddie. It was a typical day like any other, but what was a bit unusual was that a childhood friend of Joe’s, whom he hadn’t seen in a very long time, reached out to him … [Read more...]

It took 33 hours for me to learn my son had been killed at Pulse nightclub in Orlando

Christine Leinonen FOC_meta image

My son, Christopher, was an easy-going child from birth. He was fun and happy. He used to love taking baths when he was little because I always sang his favorite song during bath time. He used to pretend like he was taking a bath just to hear me sing the song. He enjoyed meeting new people and making friends — he was the epitome of a social butterfly. Christopher was a good student and got good grades, but he also strived for balance in his life and made sure to prioritize spending time with … [Read more...]

Gun Violence has Devastated My Family Five Times

Anthijuan Beeks FOC meta image

The first time gun violence touched my life, I was only two years old. It was 1971 and my uncle was shot and killed by his domestic partner. He was my mom’s baby brother and one of the oldest boys of her siblings, so many in our family looked to him for protection and leadership. After his death, my mother stepped up and took on this role for the family. She was a natural-born leader, so the role fit her perfectly. Seventeen years later, gun violence devastated my life once again. At that … [Read more...]

I Never Expected to Refer to My Son in the Past Tense

Marsha Lee FOC_meta image

There was no one in the world who had a better smile than my son, Tommy. At 20-years-old, Tommy was funny and handsome. Often, other adults would approach me and tell me how well-mannered Tommy was. It felt good knowing he was practicing what we had instilled in him. I never expected to find myself in this situation – referring to my child in the past tense. But that became my reality on August 13, 2008, when Tommy was shot at a store in the suburbs of Chicago. Like too many others, my son’s … [Read more...]

My Daughter Died Because a Loaded Gun Was Left Accessible to a Child

Maureen Pedry FOC_meta image

I had my daughter, Stacey, when I was very young – just 19 years old. At 13, Stacey was a sweet, dimpled little girl with an old soul. When we were low on groceries, it was Stacey who would tell me we needed to go to the store. She was caring and big-hearted, often visiting elderly residents in a nearby nursing home who had no visitors. The oldest of three, she took care of her younger brother and sister. And, she loved to bake. In fact, she loved it so much, she even skipped school once so she … [Read more...]

My Younger Brother Died Trying to Save Our Dad

Stephen Venable FOC_meta image

On a Saturday night in December 2003, I was waiting for a phone call. I was watching football at my home in Los Angeles, CA, but my thoughts were on a different football game taking place in Georgia, where I had grown up. The team on which my dad, Billy Venable, coached and my brother Bill played was competing in the state playoffs. If their team won, they would advance to play in the Georgia Dome the next weekend. “Going to the Dome” had been a goal of the team for a number of years, but it … [Read more...]

My mother was shot to death when I was 5 years old

Faces of Courage_Lorenzo Neal meta

It was June of 1980 when my mother, Sharon Neal, was shot and killed during an incident of domestic violence at our home in Louisiana. Her assailant shot her five times: twice in the head and three times in the back. She was just 25 years old. My three brothers and I were very young when our mother was taken from us. I was only 5 years old. Over the course of my life, members of my family told me I was not present when she was killed—perhaps in an attempt to spare me some of the trauma. But … [Read more...]

My son served our country in Afghanistan, but his brother died by gun violence here at home.

Brenda Mitchell_FOC Meta Image

My son, Kenneth, was the center of our family.  He was the first grandchild of the family and became a role model for his younger siblings and cousins. At 31, he was the single parent of two little boys, and had another son on the way. He was responsible and considerate of the people around him.  He had a very strong sense of family and was the one who would organize a barbeque if too much time had passed between family gatherings. It was Super Bowl weekend and Kenneth was the manager at a … [Read more...]

My Baby Made the Ultimate Sacrifice to Save Her Baby’s Life

Deborah Nelson FOC_ meta image

My youngest daughter, Monique, was everything a mother could wish for: tall and beautiful, but also humorous, determined, tenacious, loyal, and compassionate. Perhaps what I loved about her most was that she operated “outside of the box.”  When Monique made up her mind to do something, she did it. And she epitomized courage. Some people believe that having courage means simply to be fearless, but, to me, courage means you accept that some things are more important than fear. That’s exactly the … [Read more...]

Tucson shooting survivor: “We must continue to be a voice for those who can no longer speak.”


I met Gabrielle (Gabby) Giffords when she was a 30-year-old state representative for a district in Tucson, Arizona. As a junior high and high school teacher, I would regularly visit the state capitol to advocate for education. While I got to know many of our state lawmakers, I formed a special bond with Gabby. She had a “constituents come first” attitude and made a tremendous effort to connect with people. Often Gabby and I would meet for coffee to discuss proposed education bills. She became … [Read more...]