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Take It From Me: Gun Violence Can Happen to Anyone

This piece is by Jarren Peterson, a Minnesota member of the Everytown Survivor Network and an Everytown Survivor Fellow.

James Cole

James Cole with his dog
James Cole
James Cole, Jarren Peterson’s boyfriend

My boyfriend, James Cole, was devoted to his family and a fiercely loyal friend. If anyone ever needed anything, James could always be counted on to help out. He was a serious person and quite shy, but was the life of the party for those he was comfortable with. He was just 23, and, like most people his age, was trying to figure out his career path. Even at the age of 23, he knew he wanted to be a father.

It was a Sunday in the fall of 2014 – a pretty average day that consisted of cleaning the house and watching football. At some point later in the afternoon, James decided to meet some friends. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Being a teacher, on Sundays I try to go to bed at a relatively decent time. James said he would be home by 8 p.m. but called around that time to ask me if I minded if he stayed out a little while longer. He was considerate that way. I told him I didn’t mind at all; he told me he would be home by 10 p.m.

He never came home.

Concerned, I started texting him, but no answer. I called – again, nothing. His phone was ringing so I knew it wasn’t turned off. I began rationalizing what might have happened – maybe he had fallen asleep at his friend’s house?

At midnight when I still hadn’t heard anything, I called his family to see if they had heard from him, but they had not. His two younger brothers knew James’s social circle well so they began calling around. It wasn’t long before we learned there been a shooting on North side of Minneapolis, close to where we lived. My stomach sank.

James had taken my car so I called a close friend for help. James’s family and I drove from hospital to hospital to try and find James, but we had no luck. I contacted the police precinct and told them James was missing. I said I was concerned he may have been a victim of the shooting, but they said they weren’t releasing any details.

We drove to a few more hospitals but could not locate James. At about 3 a.m., I dropped my friend off at his house and he let me borrow his car to keep looking for James. I was headed back to the county hospital downtown when I got a call from James’s mom. She had been talking to security at the hospital who recommended she call the county morgue. It was then we learned that James’s body had been there since about 10:30 p.m. He had never been admitted to a hospital because he died at the scene of the shooting. I remember thinking, “Why didn’t anybody tell us?”

The shooting took place in November, but we wouldn’t learn the truth about what happened to James until January. The police kept telling us he was simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” It was helpful to know that he wasn’t responsible but it doesn’t hurt any less.

James Cole with his dog
James Cole

Later, we learned that James was headed home when he saw an acquaintance and his girlfriend walking down the street. November in Minnesota is very chilly so he offered them a ride. His friend asked James if he could stop by someone’s house to pick something up. James agreed. The female and James stayed in the car while his friend approached the house. Police said James’s friend had apparently robbed the house the week before. When the people inside spotted him, one of them drew a sawed-off shotgun and started shooting. His friend ran and got away but the shooter opened fire on the car, striking James in the head and neck. His female passenger was struck in the leg but survived. She said James’s last words were,” I want to go home, I want to go home.”

She said James’s last words were,” I want to go home, I want to go home.”

Gun violence has been devastating for me in so many ways. Living with grief, fear and anxiety and, on top of that, having to sort through logistics of planning a funeral and dealing with trials was incredibly difficult. Even getting a new car after James was killed in mine felt like an impossible and unbearable task.

After James’s death, my North Minneapolis neighborhood surrounded me in love and support. A group of moms in my neighborhood made freezer meals, restaurants donated food and neighbors would just randomly show up with gift cards. The craft group made me a blanket of James’s clothes. It would have been easy to move from the neighborhood that is often stricken with gun violence, but I decided instead to become an advocate for my neighborhood.

Jarren Peterson in front of a sign that says "We can end gun violence"
Jarren Peterson at a Wear Orange event

After writing a letter to the editor, a representative from the Everytown Survivor Network reached out to me and welcomed me to the group. Today, I speak at events and work with the local Moms Demand Action leadership team to tell James’s story and to advocate for solutions to this senseless crisis. Through this work, I have expanded the network of people who I trust implicitly and can be open and honest. I now have people who “get me.” It’s like a family.

I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska in a picture-perfect family. I read about gun violence in the newspaper. I honestly never thought about how it impacted so many communities until it happened in my family. It is much easier to disconnect yourself from the issue when you don’t know anybody who has been affected by gun violence. That’s why it’s so important as a survivor to share my story. I’m an everyday, average person and James’s shooting death completely altered my life. I want people to fully understand that no one is immune to gun violence. Now is the time to act, before it’s too late, before it happens to you.

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