I had my son, Peter, when I was young—at just 18 years old. Despite my youth, I was very much looking forward to being a mom and was particularly excited to be having a boy. My dreams came true when Peter was born. He was a beautiful baby with dark hair and a sweet demeanor.
Peter maintained this demeanor throughout his life. Everyone enjoyed being around Peter – he was always so happy and positive. I was a single mom and I believe he recognized the difficulties in raising a child alone. He never complained and rarely got into trouble. He would spend the weekends and summers with my parents at their home on the lake. My mother and Peter became exceptionally close.
Like many kids his age, Peter hit a bit of an awkward phase in middle school and his confidence took a hit. He turned to video games and became particularly good at Madden Football. I encouraged him to play football and he really blossomed through playing on the team. He was not the most talented player, but he had the biggest heart. He quickly became a team leader and was always standing up for the underdog.
He loved all things sports – playing, reading and writing about them – so, after high school, he decided to pursue a degree in sports broadcasting. He was so committed to his education that he picked up a job at a local restaurant to help pay for school, working late nights and weekends when he wasn’t in the classroom.
He was a gifted student and was excelling in college when his world – and mine – came crashing down.
It was 1 a.m. when I heard a knock at the door. It was two deputies from the local sheriff’s office. My first thought was that Peter had gotten into some trouble or maybe he was hurt. Nothing could have prepared me for the news I was about to hear: Peter had been “gruesomely” shot and killed during a robbery at his workplace.
I was completely alone at my home. So, the deputies waited with me while I contacted friends and relatives. I remember how frustrating it was because no one was picking up the phone at that time of the morning. And, even when they did, no one knew quite how to respond to what I was telling them. Eventually, I got in touch with two friends and my ex-boyfriend, who came to support me while I processed this devastating news.
The minutes, days and months that followed were surreal. My mother was no longer with us, but how would I tell my 86-year-old father that his beloved grandson was dead? We typically spoke every day, but that all changed after Peter’s death. I think both of us were avoiding the painful reality that Peter was gone.
I never saw Peter’s body, which is something I regret to this day. I have, however, watched the surveillance video from the restaurant on the night he was killed. The shooter cased the restaurant for about 15 minutes before entering and demanding money. When Peter was unable to give him any, he callously shot him 15 times. His murder took all of 36 seconds.
Peter’s killer was on the loose for two weeks until his sister, who bought him the gun, turned him in.
Having a child taken in such a violent way not only takes a toll on you mentally, but physically as well. My hair is falling out. I’ve had stomach issues for over a year. My heart beats faster and more erratically than it once did. I have trouble concentrating.
But I know Peter would not want me to live in misery, so I’m channeling my energy into activism. I’ve joined my local chapter of Moms Demand Action and am a member of the Everytown Survivor Network. I’m part of Parents of Murdered Children and regularly host other mothers at my home who have had children taken by violence. I’m advocating at the Texas State Capitol on behalf of bills that will protect our communities from violent crime. My activism is therapeutic and helps me cope.
I encourage anyone who has been reluctant to share their stories to consider it. I have found that when I share mine, I get more empathy and willingness to help from total strangers than I do from those who know me.
Our children no longer have a voice. We must step up and speak out for them.
This piece is by Dana Mielke, a Texas member of the Everytown Survivor Network. If you have been personally affected by gun violence and would like to share your story with Moms Demand Action, please email [email protected]