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 and asked if they could get together. Joe agreed and invited him over, along with another friend named Simon.
It is my understanding that Joe and his friends had a pretty low-key evening that consisted mostly of talking about the “good old days” and playing video games. Simon later told me the only thing that stuck out to him about the night was that their childhood friend kept asking him when he was going to leave.
It got to be about 2 a.m. and both young men decided it was time to go home. For a reason that is unclear, Joe went outside shortly after his friends left. That’s when he was approached by his childhood friend who shot and killed him with a handgun. The young man sped off, parked in front of his father’s home and turned the gun on himself.
Joe’s mom and his sisters heard the gunshots and discovered him lying dead on the street, his body riddled with bullets.
It’s hard to comprehend how someone who grew up with Joe – who went to high school with him, played little league baseball and high school football with him – could murder my son.
We learned later that the young man had been on a downward spiral and was clearly not getting the help he needed. He lost touch with all his friends—no one had heard from him in two years—and had even dropped off the map with his parents and other family members.
Joe’s killer had bought his powerful .45 mm handgun a year-and-a-half prior to the shooting. He loaded it with hollow point bullets—the kind of bullets that do maximum damage.
Joe’s murder was premeditated but nobody who knew Joe could fathom why anyone would want to take his life.
At first, Joe’s death was incomprehensible—just nothing but pain and grief. As time has passed, his death has brought our family closer together. If there is ever a time to hunker down and tighten the family bond, the death of a family member will do it.
Shortly after Joe’s death, his mom, Shelley, and I got involved with Everytown for Gun Safety’s Survivor Network. It’s a bit surreal, being with other people who have all been directly impacted by gun violence. At times, it’s overwhelming. But we will do whatever is asked of us because we strongly believe in a common goal– to end gun violence.
When a child dies, it’s natural for parents to feel a huge amount of guilt. I wish I had been there the night Joe was killed. I wish I had stopped my son from going outside that door. These are the kinds of thoughts that will envelope you if you don’t seek help.
To anyone who has recently had someone die as a result of gun violence, my advice is to try to channel your grief and remain healthy. There are many ways people deal with grief. A healthy mind was the best way for me; an unhealthy mind would only amplify the negative: my grief, my loss, the pain and the guilt.
Change comes slowly, but that’s okay. And if there is anything that can change the culture of gun violence in our country, it’s people who have been affected by it as profoundly as we have.
My son’s death should not go unnoticed. His death and our subsequent pain should be a wake-up call to other parents and families that this can happen any time, any place, and we must do something to stop it.
I won’t stop fighting until change comes. I hope you won’t either.
This piece is by Tom McMahon, a California member of the Everytown Survivor Network and Survivor Network Fellow. If you have been personally affected by gun violence and would like to share your story with Moms Demand Action, please email [email protected]