Dobson’s sacrifice, the president said, should serve as an example to Americans who lack a sense of urgency about gun violence.
“He wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, he hadn’t made a bad decision,” Obama said. “He was exactly where any other kid would be. Your kid. My kids.
“And then gunmen started firing.
“And Zaevion, who was in high school — hadn’t even gotten started in life — dove on top of three girls to shield them from the bullets. And he was shot in the head and the girls were spared.”
The president continued: “He gave his life to save theirs — an act of heroism a lot bigger than anything we should ever expect from a 15-year-old. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Zach Dobson, the victim’s brother, told NBC affiliate WBIR that the December shooting shocked those who were on the scene. By the time the group of young people realized that Zaevion Dobson had been shot, it was too late.
“He was laying there, and I just pick him up and put him in my arms,” his brother said. “He was dead. Unfortunately, he wasn’t lucky, but he saved two lives.”
Faith Gordon, who credited Dobson with saving her life, later recalled that she “pulled on him and said ‘You can get up now’ — but he didn’t get up. So I just went upstairs, and by the time I came back to make sure everything was real, [I saw] he was shot in the head.”
The survivors credited Dobson with saving their lives and noted that he could have saved himself by diving off the porch, but chose not to.
He was the only person in the group who was struck by a bullet.
“You’re my hero, I’ll never forget you,” Gordon wrote on Twitter.
Days later, she posted a photo of a new tattoo on her shoulder in Dobson’s honor.
Dobson was a sophomore at Fulton High School in northern Knoxville and was “a fine, fine young man,” according to the school’s football coach Rob Black.
“Only a sophomore, but a very contagious young man who was very liked by his peers and his teachers,” Black told the AP. “Going to be a tough time …”
Investigators said the shooting was part of a spasm of gang-related violence that began when a 46-year-old woman was shot inside her apartment several miles away. The victim, Lisa Perry, survived, officials said. In an act of retribution gone awry, police say Perry’s son — 23-year-old Brandon Perry — joined several other men who drove to Dobson’s neighborhood and started shooting. Police don’t believe Dobson was targeted.
“Unfortunately, they picked a random group of young men and women who were just hanging out and trying to prepare to celebrate the holiday,” Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch said after the shooting. The chief struggled to hold back tears while discussing the teenager’s sacrifice.
Weeks later, Dobson’s story brought another public official to tears — only this time it was the president.
Tuesday’s mention of Dobson followed a tweet by the president three days after the teenager was killed.
At the White House on Tuesday, Obama began speaking about Dobson near the end of his speech, which lasted nearly 40 minutes.
He noted that the teenager was “beloved by his classmates and teachers” and considered one of the city’s success stories.
He emphasized that he wasn’t asking anyone to sacrifice as much as the teenager, but to use his sacrifice as an inspiration for taking action
“We are not asked to have shoulders that big, a heart that strong, reactions that quick,” Obama said, referencing Dobson. “I’m not asking people to have that same level of courage or sacrifice or love. But if we love our kids and care about their prospects and and if we love this country and care about its future, then we can find the courage to vote, we can find the courage to get mobilized and organized, we can find the courage to cut through all the noise and do what a sensible country would do.
“That’s what we’re doing today and tomorrow we should do more and we should do more the day after that. And if we do, we’ll leave behind a nation that’s stronger than the one we inherited and worthy of the sacrifice of a young man like Zaevion.”
A GoFundMe campaign raised more than $60,000 for the teenager’s funeral arrangements and a memorial.
“As a mother – I can’t imagine being so sad, yet so proud at the same time,” Deborah Dunbar Mauldin, whose daughter knew Dobson, wrote on the page. “I will pray daily for this family – a beautiful child taken too soon from a senseless crime…and I will pray daily for our youth – these kids have dealt with more at 15 than I believe I have in a lifetime.”