My 14-Year-Old Died In An Accidental Shooting That Should Never Have Happened

Julvonnia McDowell

Two years ago this April, my 14-year-old son JaJuan was shot and killed by another teenager who was playing with an unsecured gun. JaJuan was on vacation when he died, visiting family in Savannah. His short life came to an end in the briefest and most tragic of moments. My kind, intelligent, loving boy was gone, and the promise of who he would become and the dreams he would fulfill would never be realized.

It has almost been two years, and it’s still difficult to comprehend that such a fleeting act is responsible for this degree of devastation. Deaths like JaJuan’s are entirely preventable. As a mother whose child was senselessly shot and killed, it compounds my pain even more to watch spineless legislators sit idly by as more and more children are taken by gun violence every day.

In the months that followed JaJuan's death, I remember quietly watching the news on TV, still numb with the pain of losing my son. I watched news item after news item about other children who had died after finding an unsecured gun. There were so many stories that echoed my own — a life cut tragically short by a careless act of gun violence. These avoidable deaths, it seemed, had become our new normal.

I would not wish my years of pain on any parent.

Which is why this Saturday, March 24, I'll join the thousands rallying in all 50 states in support of the “March for Our Lives” movement. We will march with members of our communities. We will march with survivors of every form of gun violence (mass shootings, domestic violence, suicide by gun, gang violence and more).

Our message will be loud and clear: It is long past time for our policymakers to make students’ lives and safety a priority, and pass common-sense gun safety legislation to make Americans safer.

I would not wish my years of pain on any parent. I will march Saturday alongside my friends and neighbors powered by the hope that we will create lasting change. The hope that my son’s tragic end is not without meaning. The hope that our sisterhood of mothers who have lost children to gun violence does not continue to grow.

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I became a gun violence prevention activist after many months of grieving. I befriended another gun violence survivor whose 14-year-old son had been shot and killed four years earlier. Inspired by her strength, I joined the movement to end gun violence. I decided that, despite my heartbreak, I had to take action.

While nothing will ever bring back my precious JaJuan, other children’s lives continued to be taken by gun violence, and that is unacceptable. I refuse to let other families — other mothers — be subjected to a life sentence of grief.

The bullet that killed JaJuan changed my life forever.

Among my top priorities? To change the “it’s not my problem” culture that permeates conversations about gun violence. When our nation’s students and educators are running and hiding from gunfire, it is our problem – all of our problem. When, in America, the phrase “another mass shooting” is part of our vernacular, it is our problem. And when gun violence is affecting our children, families and communities every single day, it is our problem. And all of us have to be part of the solution.

I was beyond heartbroken to hear about what happened in Parkland, Florida. When I found out, I was brought back to the moment JaJuan was killed. I prayed and grieved for these families and students who are now members the club no one wants to join — those whose lives have been forever hurt by gun violence.

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But my hope and faith were renewed when I saw the students who survived the horrific attack speaking out and taking action. Like me, they believe things can change. They’re hopeful our lawmakers will hear our stories and finally pass common-sense gun legislation. They know we don’t have to live like this.

I am inspired by these students. I will march in their honor, in JaJuan’s honor, and in honor of every survivor of gun violence.

The bullet that killed JaJuan changed my life forever. It put me on this journey to advocate for safer gun laws. I didn’t ask to be here, and certainly never wanted to be — but now that I am, I’m going to make it count.