The Magazine asked: “What’s your number?” Readers responded with their stories

March 11, 2013
Tony Lewis Jr. (Matthew Girard)
Tony Lewis Jr. appeared in the March 10 issue.<br/>(Matthew Girard)

“How many people do you know who have been shot?” That’s the question I asked people around the Washington region for an article that ran in The Washington Post Magazine on March 10.

About half of the 40 to 50 people I spoke with did not know anyone who had been shot. Many of them said they felt lucky or blessed that they had not had to deal with a shooting in their life.

But many others had experienced having friends or family members shot. Others had been shot themselves. When we published their stories and photographs, we asked readers to write in and share how many people they knew who had been shot. Here are some of their responses.

GUN NUMBER: 1
James Worthey, 68
Gaithersburg

I saved the clippings from the Washington Post. June 26, 1992, page C5; and June 27, 1992, page B7. The man was Steven Hong-Luk King, age 51. My son and I knew him as the owner of a restaurant in Germantown. On weekends, his charming son, then about 4 or 5, would spend time at the restaurant to be with his father. Steven King was especially friendly to me and my son, who was 17. The little boy’s mother was Steven’s second wife.

He also had a son slightly older than my boy, but the older son was evidently a no-account. In June 1992, the 19-year old son and an accomplice undertook to rob Steven King at gunpoint. They shot and killed him for about $1,000 in cash.

After the shooting, I spent one pleasant afternoon with the widow and the little boy, and got to know other relatives of the deceased. I learned not to take friends or acquaintances for granted.

For me, the idea of gun violence became more real.

GUN NUMBER: HUNDREDS
Peter Kahrmann, 60
North Adams, Mass.

On August 24, 1984, I was held up on my way to work and shot in the head at point-blank range. The bullet remains lodged in the frontal lobe of the brain. I owe my life to the rapid response of the NYPD’s 84th Precinct in Brooklyn, New York.

I live with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury. My ability to feel safe in the world is badly compromised. I later co-founded and am a former board member of the NYC Chapter of Victims for Victims, a nonprofit group started in 1982 in California by actress Theresa Saldana who’d survived a knife assault by a stalker. Along with many others, I fought hard to get the Brady Bill passed.

When someone says, “Guns don’t kill, people do,” I agree — and then proceed to point out that every so-called gun control measure is, in fact, addressing the behavior of people: trigger guards, background checks, the ban on assault weapons, reduction of magazine size, all these seek to address the behavior of people.

If you are talking to someone who has survived an act of violence, be careful about telling us how lucky they are. We know your words are well intended, but always, always remember, we are living with what did happen, not with what could have happened. Remember too that when you are going through the violence, you are not in control over your ability to stay alive. The damage the experience inflicts is brutal beyond words.

GUN NUMBER: 1
Lani Matsen, 45
San Francisco

Suerita was my stepmother. She loved physics and math. She loved her family.  She loved performing random acts of kindness for others less fortunate.  She was shot in the head, murdered in her sleep, by my stepbrother, the only child she ever bore — I don’t actually know why.

My father couldn’t reach her via the phone and knew immediately that something was wrong. He was in Texas on a business trip.  He couldn’t get a flight home so he bought a new car and drove to Florida, only to find a huge pool of blood on the couch.

Police later found her body hidden at the very back end of my father’s property. The boy who helped my step brother break into the house confessed to his father, and then to the police when his father took him to the police station. After that, the police were able to find and arrest my stepbrother. He is currently in a prison where, I am told, he will remain for the rest of his natural life.

I lost a dear friend and family member. I had nightmares for years afterward, fears of my own son turning on me and killing me in my sleep if I didn’t give him all that he wanted or demanded from me. (He was only a wee baby when my step mother was killed.) There was a huge falling out between my other brother and I.  My father’s heart was broken, and I don’t think he was ever the same again.

GUN NUMBER: 1
Christine Kaess, 54
Takoma Park

His name was Paul Cano, he was my closest friend, a lobbyist and political junkie and was 30 years old when he did not show up for work in July 1992. Spent two weeks searching for him when children found his body a Fort Dupont Park. He had been shot in the head. Now, over 20 years later, friends and family still have no idea who killed Paul and why.

All I can say is that I’m an entirely different person than I was back before his death. In fact, I usually think of my life events in terms of “before Paul’s death” and “after Paul’s death.”

GUN NUMBER: 7-plus
Dearyl Webb, 57
Washington

The first time I experienced gun violence was when twin brothers were killed at the same time. And this was not because of drugs or a beef over territory. It was because of a girl.

One of the twins had broken up with the girl and wanted a ring he gave her back. So, he and his brother went to the girl’s house to get the ring. They had a talk with the girl’s brother. He told them he would get the ring for them, but that it wasn’t at the house and he’d have to take them to where it was.

So the three of them piled into a car to go get it. The brother took them to a liquor store called The 51 Club, just over the DC/Maryland line. They parked around the side of the liquor store, where the girl’s brother shot both of them point blank in the face and chest. They died instantly. Then the brother drove the bodies to Upper Marlboro and dumped them on the side of the road.

This isn’t the only shooting that I knew of. But, it was the first that made me realize how violent the world had become. Some folks need guns for protection — I’m kind of straddling the fence on gun policy.

But I moved, and I keep my eye on people, young and old. I’m 56 now, and I was 26 when this happened. I have not trusted anyone since.

GUN NUMBER: 2
Gabrielle Cabreros, 28
Virginia Beach

My first cousin died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound when deer hunting at age 26. My second cousin, who was at the time only 1 year old, accidentally shot herself when a loaded gun was left unattended. Her lung collapsed. She miraculously recovered and is now a beautiful 3-year-old.

My cousin’s parents never recovered from his death, and our family still misses him every day.  No one in our family, to my knowledge, hunts anymore.

Even though my baby cousin recovered and is healthy and wonderful, her incident also scared me enough to worry about having guns in a home with children.  She has loving and attentive parents who would never intentionally hurt her, and yet this life-threatening incident occurred.

Personally, I have always feared guns and wanted nothing to do with them, until I met my husband, who is ex-military and experienced with firearms. He taught me how to properly shoot a gun, but I still worry about having guns in our home. Our guns remain locked in a safe, and I will never let my children in a home where they’re not locked up.

GUN NUMBER: 7
Heather Moreno, 39
Arlington

My brother Christopher Morrison was killed coming home from his birthday party. He and his friend had just arrived home and they were laughing and joking about the night’s events when four men entered the house in search of money that did not exist.  After becoming angry that there wasn’t any money, one of the men shot my brother five times at point-blank range in the face and chest.  That same man and another man both shot his friend.

Someone had told those men he had lots of money because he bought himself a new car for his birthday.  It was his first new car.

You hear about people being killed every day on the news or through your friends and acquaintances, but you can never understand that shock that comes with the sudden and tragic death of a loved one. It’s feels like you’ve stepped in front of a moving train that you never saw coming.

I can’t stop crying. I’m always on high alert, looking around for people who may want to do me harm. I’m always checking the rear view mirror to see if I’m being followed.  No matter what I do, I can’t get the hole in my heart to heal. I can’t stop replaying that day over in my head when we got the phone call that my brother had been murdered.

The only comfort that I have was the last words that I said to my brother were, “Have a happy birthday and I love you very much!”

Gun number: “Haven’t stopped counting…”
Francis Weaver, 51
Washington

It’s difficult, but you almost become numb to losing so many friends.

I grew up between the 18th and 23rd blocks of Benning Road NE during the ’80s, in my opinion the most dangerous times in D.C. Crack, heroin and guns hit D.C. like a tsunami and I survived it — but others didn’t.

I lost my little brother Andre, a.k.a. “Tykee,” a beautiful kid who was not made for the streets. We grew up with a tough Italian mother who became ill. I (the man of the house) had to take care of my mom and little brother. It was tough. After many attempts to keep my brother out of trouble, with no help from local officials, I let him go.

I didn’t think or I hoped he wouldn’t get killed — maybe locked up, to turn his life around. He was only 16 years old when he got involved in the streets and 18 when he died, a year after my mother died.

That was the only family I had. My father didn’t care about me, and he was from Philly, anyway. I met him once. I was a good kid, played sports, did well in school, but it didn’t matter. After my mom died in ’90, my little brother was killed in ’91. That was it … no family left.

GUN NUMBER: 2
Wendy Ellis, 48
Washington

My father shot my mother when I was about 18 months old. Theirs had been an abusive relationship, and he shot her in the head while I was in the room. He never spent time in prison for this because at the time in Ohio, the domestic nature of the shooting made it a misdemeanor.

Being exposed to gun violence and domestic violence at a very young age has left a very deep crevasse in my life. I do not find entertainment in much of what passes for summer blockbusters full of violence and destruction. Firearms are very real and very lethal, and I am very disturbed that my children’s generation is so comfortable with the portrayal of gun violence as “entertaining.” I lost both parents when my father pulled the trigger. There’s no turning the page to that reality.

I understand that we have certain “rights” to firearms ownership as citizens, but we also have as outlined in the Bill of Rights the right to the pursuit of happiness. I’ve had to fight for that right since my father exercised his right to own a gun.

 

Joe Heim is an editor and writer for The Washington Post magazine. He has recently written about the role of presidents as consolers-in-chief and about Washingtonians personal experiences with gun violence.
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