Diana and James Bunten – Several years ago, my husband and I made the worst mistake of our lives and our children’s lives. We kept a loaded gun in our home, where our boys could find it. One day, our 11-year-old son got the gun and was playing “James Bond” when he fired the weapon. The bullet hit our TV, ricocheted, struck and killed our 7-year-old son James Jr. That day our lives changed forever. Not only did we lose a child, but charges were brought against our older son, even though the shooting was accidental. He had to stand trial and was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide. He was taken away from us and placed in a juvenile detention center for 2 years.

Losing James Jr. and having our other son taken away destroyed our family and life as we knew it. Living without James Jr. was the worst. We missed him every day, and years later we continue to live with the horrible guilt of our extreme negligence in keeping a loaded, unlocked gun in our home with two young boys.

Please don’t ever take it for granted that your children will not find your weapon. It MUST be kept UNLOADED and LOCKED UP, so that another precious child will not lose their life and another family will not be devastated, living with the loss, pain and guilt as my husband and I do.

 

Karen Berard-Reed - On Christmas Eve, 2011, my family visited the home of close friends.  After dinner, the boys headed to the computer room to track Santa’s progress on the NORAD website.  Minutes later, chaos erupted when my younger son ran, screaming, into the kitchen, bleeding profusely from the face.  My husband was yelling, telling me Jonathan had been shot.  These words were incomprehensible to me and I was certain he was confused.

It quickly became clear this was a horrifying truth.  The boys had discovered a loaded pellet gun next to the computer.  They mistakenly believed it was an accessory to a video game.  With typical boy curiosity, they picked it up.  My 9 year old son was holding it when it went off and my younger son was shot in the eye.  We would later learn the pellet had traveled through his eye socket and lodged in the center of his brain. The pellet remains there, as an operation to remove it brings much higher risk than leaving it.

Jonathan made amazing progress since his week in the hospital.  If you saw him today, you would see a typical, exuberant 6 year old.  The physical consequences of the trauma are quiet and open-ended.  He has weakness on his left side, he is at risk for seizures, and we are watching closely for any changes related to his learning, personality, and affect.  The scariest risks are related to serious brain infection that could occur at any point in his life – or never.

Even with all of this, today I am more worried about my older son.  He is devastated by this accident and that his beloved little brother is hurt.  We have some serious emotional work to do with him to help him understand this was NOT his fault but rather that of an irresponsible adult.

While I would use a million wishes if I could erase this event from our lives, I know I cannot.  I can only hope our story might help prevent further tragedy.  Please consider the following advice and have a serious conversation with your children:

  • NEVER, EVER leave ANY gun where a child can find it.  Clearly, pellet and BB guns need to be treated the same as other types of firearms.
  • NEVER leave a gun loaded.
  • Tell your children to alert an adult as soon as they see a gun even if they believe it to be a toy or video game accessory.  Make sure they know adults must be the ones to make this determination.

This advice may seem irrelevant to you if you do not have guns in your home.  But, we do not either and the home in which our tragedy occurred is one where I never questioned my children’s safety.  If I were able to turn back time, this would be the first conversation I would have with my boys.

 

Mylissa Bellamy - “I used to be a “normal” mom. I used to have a “normal” life. Then one day, everything changed. On January 22, 2010 our eleven-year-old son, Matthew, went home from school to spend the night with one of his best friends. Unknown to us, earlier in the week the little boy had gone hunting with his grandfather and brought a gun home with him. His mother did not realize it was real, which led to it being left unsecured. Within a few minutes of the boys’ arrival on the 22nd, Matthew’s friend showed him his gun. As he picked it up, it discharged. Matthew was shot by the one bullet left in that gun and he died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

There really are no words to adequately describe the heartache of losing a child. Matthew was a joyous child and his absence has left a void that will never be filled. However, as deep as our pain is, we didn’t want his death to be without reason. In our son’s memory, my husband, Chip, and I founded The Matthew Bellamy Project. The response has been tremendous. It’s not always easy to be so open about our loss and heartache, but we know it’s the right thing to do. We have to make it real so others will understand the importance of protecting children from firearms. I miss my son, every minute of every day. Losing Matthew has left a hole in my heart that will never be filled.

As you read this, I want to ask three things of you. First, if you have unsecured firearms in your home, please do not go to bed tonight until you have locked them up. There is nothing in your home that you need to protect that is more valuable than the life of a loved one. It is parents’ job to make sure their children are safe.

Secondly, before you allow your children to go into someone else’s home, you need to ask one simple question, “Do you have unsecured firearms in your home?” You may find it hard to do, but trust me, it’s one of the most important things you will ever do for your kids.

And third, I ask you to embrace and love your family, especially the children in your life. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. Cherish your family today.”

 

Loralee Choate - “I like guns. Hunting isn’t my thing but I like going to a range or up in the mountains and shooting guns. My husband has a concealed carry permit and he felt strongly about having a gun on him and in our home, but I felt very torn. Our compromise was a gun safe. Which worked. Until it didn’t.

One day, after my husband unloaded and holstered his gun, he got distracted by one of the billion things we have going on in our lives and home and it wasn’t locked up.

And I walked into a room to see my toddler, my sweet little Butterlump, holding a gun. In his hands. Playing with it. The gun wasn’t where you would think a toddler could access but Butterlump has been getting into things that are unbelievable.

When I saw him my heart stopped. Then it exploded. And a million “WHAT IF’s” ran through my head. And even though the gun was empty, and the safety was on, and as my husband put it “no way he could have hurt himself” there is just NO WAY I can forget it or unsee that.

My enjoyment of shooting is not worth the chance that something could happen. It’s not worth what I went through when I saw him and the fear I felt.  I can go get a gun and travel to a range to have fun and shoot. My family will still shoot guns, and — because I think it’s important — be educated about guns and firearm safety. My husband can prep his guns where he’s storing them and take the boys up in the mountains with the family when we go to shoot at targets. I can live with the very small chance that a situation will arise to warrant gun use to defend hearth and home much better than I can live with the other possibilities in this situation.

I am not making a pro or anti gun statement here. I am not telling anyone what to do or not do. I am just telling you what I can and can’t do. And having a gun in my home isn’t working for me anymore.”

 

Ge Wu - “I had been a proud mother of two until April 17, 2009, when my life, my dreams, and my pride were completely turned upside down. On that day, my 15 year old son Aaron, an honored student, a cellist, a talented tennis player, and above all, a generous and kind person with a big heart, took his own life. He used a gun that one of his friends had taken from his mother without her knowing.

I am certain that if my son did not have access to that gun, that if the child’s parents had known the danger of keeping an unsecured gun in their home, my Aaron would be alive today. When Aaron was having a moment of crisis, as so many teenagers do, access to that gun made all the difference.

I know there is nothing I can do now to bring Aaron back. I have to live with that every day. All I can hope to do now is to channel my grief and regrets into a passion to educate and inform so that I might prevent other mothers from knowing the same indescribable pain of losing a child.”

 

Ann Marie Crowell – “Our 12-year-old son, Brian Crowell, was at a friend’s house on Dec. 2 4, 1997. They had spent the day together, shopping at the mall for Christmas gifts, and ended the day at this friend’s house playing video games. At 3:45pm, our daughter called her brother to tell him to come home so that they could get ready for our traditional Christmas Eve celebration held at our home with our friends and family. I was scheduled to get out of work at 4:00.

While Brian was on the phone, his friend decided to show him the gun that he had recently discovered in his mother’s room. This gun, we were told later, was in her possession for her own protection from an abusive ex-husband. He thought that he had removed all the bullets but one remained stuck in the barrel. He pulled back the hammer three times to hear the click, click, click. On the third click, the gun fired and hit Brian in the neck, just as he was hanging up the phone. His last words to his friend were “I can’t believe you shot me!” Brian attempted to run from the room to get home but he only made it as far as the living room where he collapsed on the floor.

Brian was quickly taken to the hospital and I received a call at work telling me that there had been an accident and I should come to the hospital. My husband also received the same call and we met at the emergency room where we were told of the severity of his condition. The bullet had entered through his neck and torn him apart right down his chest. Although the doctors attempted to do surgery, we were told there was nothing more they could do for him and we were allowed to be with him as he died.

We feel that we have been robbed. Brian robbed of his life, and we robbed of the happiness in watching our son grow up and do all the things we had hoped for our children: go to the prom, graduate high school, college, become productive adults and perhaps marry and have children of their own.”

 

Sonya Barge - “I think about my life in two parts now – before the tragedy and after.

I was running just a little late from work to pick up my 3 year-old-son from his regular babysitter’s home outside St. Louis one June day in 1998. It was during those fateful minutes that the babysitter’s own 11-year-old child found a gun in a closet. My son Markie entered the room, startling the boy with the gun. The gun went off. He never meant to shoot Markie.

About six months before the tragedy, I can so vividly remember hearing a story on the evening news about a local mother who lost her son to an accidental shooting. Little did I know that one day the tragic news story would be about my son Markie, and that there may have been something I could have been doing all along to prevent it.

Today, I urge all parents to do everything they can to keep their children safe from guns and ask a simple question that can prevent accidental tragedies just like the one that has changed the rest of my life: “Is there a gun in the homes where my child plays?”

There’s no way to describe the anguish of losing a child and the effects of Markie’s death – not just on my family, but also on the family of the boy who shot my son. My hope is to prevent other families from experiencing the heartache we have gone through.

Seven years ago, my baby sitter’s son accidentally shot and killed my 3-year-old son Markie with an unlocked gun he found in a closet. I cannot stress this enough: had I asked, he might still be alive.”

 

Jeanne Caroline-  “The day that I had to kiss my beautiful son Seanne goodbye for the last time, I made a promise. A promise to him and all those who can no longer speak for themselves. To share the pain no parent should have to endure. To teach as many as who are willing to listen. To reach as many families a s possible with the tragedy that befell our family, and in doing so, save a child, our most precious gift in life.”On September 5, 2003 Jeanne Caroline’s world changed forever. Jeanne and her husband Sean lived in Largo, Florida with their son Seanne, a warm, bright and loving seventh grader who pitched for his Little League team and had already celebrated his first hole-in-one in golf. On that Friday, Jeanne was just sitting down to grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup with her sister, when she heard the news from a police officer at her door. Her son, Seanne had been unintentionally shot and killed at a friend’s house.

Today Jeanne is the president of the Seannes Wish Foundation. Since the terrible tragedy of losing her son, Jeanne has dedicated her life to educating others about the dangers of gun violence against children. Recognizing that guns are one of the least talked about and most misunderstood child safety topics and that unintentional shootings are 100% preventable, Jeanne is spreading the word and helping to prevent other tragedies. She has been featured in numerous newspaper articles and on news programs and has spoken to parents and children at schools and community organizations about her experiences.