Beyond The Bullets: The families left behind

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Crime stats don’t tell the full story when you talk about gun violence in Richmond. Gun violence shatters the lives of the families who are left behind to pick up the pieces.

“Holidays, birthday’s, the memories are always fresh,” said Richmond resident MaryJamison. “I can tell you exactly today what I was doing when I got the call.”

It’s been 30 years since Jamison’s sister, Catherine Ruffin Watkins, and her 2-year-old niece Christina were gunned down. The emotions, however, are still raw.

“Every time you think you are getting over it, something reminds you of it,” Jamison explained.

Jamison’s brother-in-law shot her sister several times in the driveway of their home. He then shot and killed her young niece before turning the gun on himself.

“Yes we forgive, yes we move on, but we never forget,” said Jamison.

“Yes we forgive, yes we move on, but we never forget.” — Mary Jamison

Jamison also knows the pain of the other side.

“I have a brother who is in prison, serving 28 years for first-degree murder,” she said.

Jamison tries to find comfort at the Richmond Police Department’s Homicide Support Group.

“We just try to draw strength off of each other,” said Officer Kimberly Cheatham-Mcclarin with RPD’s Community Care Unit.

“About 85% of it is gun violence,” added Ester Marshall, a witness specialist with the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office in Richmond.

The group meets once a month.  It’s a large group.

01173FA250494110A6C12EB72D67E2F3“It’s a club you don’t want to ever be a member of, but you stay and try to help the next person,” JoAnn Cockey said.

Cockey lost her son Luke to violence. She and her husband have been attending the support group since it started eight years ago.

“We come together as family, friends,” Marshall said.

“Sometimes, it’s very emotional we tear up, it’s like we are family,” said Officer Cheatham-Mcclarin.

“We get to talk out and express.” added Cassie Turner, who leans on the folks at the group to help her cope with her grief. “It’s a struggle every day, every day.”

Two of her nephews, Kenton Bullock and William White, were the victims of gun violence in the City of Richmond. They were murdered in two separate incidents just a year apart. The shooters have never been caught.

“It’s devastating,” Turner said.

“We have more and more people who are dying by the hands of others,” Cockey said.

While the support group offers a listening ear, it will never bring back their loved ones and it will never plug the hole in their hearts. They share their stories in hopes it leaves a mark.

“They don’t realize what they are doing, I don’t believe they realize they are taking a life,” Cockey said.

“It just never ceases to amaze me the senselessness of it, it’s easier to get a gun than a driver’s license, sometimes than it is to get a free meal,” Jamison said.

When asked how they hope to stop the gun violence, all of the women echoed similar thoughts. They say we need to get to the children earlier.

“Get the guns out of the hands of children,” Turner said.

The group says it can’t be just the police, but that rather it will take the entire community. They believe we need to be talking and demonstrating peaceful conflict resolution. They also believe our leaders need to tackle the poverty in community. They say people need hope, hope for something better, hope for a good paying job and hope for a decent roof over their head.

Of course, not everyone is illegally using a firearm. Some are afraid of the crime and getting guns to protect themselves.

Our series “Beyond the Bullets” continues tomorrow with a look at that part of the story on Friday.

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