Lately I’ve been wearing the color blue — a symbol of unity with my STEM family. I’ve worn blue to honor Kendrick Castillo, who gave his life to save his classmates from the shooting at STEM High School in Highlands Ranch on May 7, 2019.
Thanks to the courage and bravery of this beloved student turned unnecessary hero, my own children came home from school that day safe and physically unharmed. But I am devastated that Kendrick died three days before his graduation, eight students were wounded, and my two young children, ages 9 and 11, are now survivors of gun violence.
My family had already lived through an incident of gun violence, a tragedy that completely changed who I was and how I viewed the world.
A few years ago, a member of my family shot three people, including another family member, killing one of the victims and wounding the other two. The grief is immeasurable. Everything in my life is now defined as “before” or “after” the shooting.
“After” the shooting, I knew I could not sit on the sidelines anymore, and I became active with Moms Demand Action and the movement to end gun violence. My world was shattered, but the knowledge that families like mine go through this unavoidable pain and every day was the catalyst that pushed me to share my story and work for change.
Now we have another “before” and “after” in our timeline of life. My heart breaks every time I think about what my 5th grader experienced, sitting in the dark for over an hour, listening to the announcement on the intercom repeating over and over, “Attention! Lockdown. Locks. Lights. Out of Sight.”
No child should have to hear a SWAT team running on the roof of her classroom, or be ordered by a SWAT team to “put your hands on your heads!” while assault rifles are pointed at them. I will never forget the moment I was reunited with my son at the Rec Center after the shooting.
When his 3rd grade class walked into the building, arm-in-arm, it was both the happiest and saddest moment of my life. I cannot believe this is the world we are living in and how our children are growing up.
Firearms are the second leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S. after motor vehicle accidents, and cause double the deaths for children and teens as cancer. Every year, nearly 3,000 children and teens are shot and killed and more than 15,000 are shot and injured. That’s an average of 51 American children and teens shot every day.
The impact of gun violence on children and teens also goes far beyond those who are shot. Gun violence affects the lives of millions of children who witness it, know someone who was shot, or live in fear of the next shooting.
That’s why I’m fighting for my children, and your children, to live in a country free from gun violence. A country where children don’t have to fear going to school. A country where people who are a danger to themselves and others don’t have easy access to a gun.
This weekend, my family and I will be wearing a different color. We’ll be wearing orange to honor all those affected by gun violence — my own family, community, and the 100 lives cut short by gun violence and the hundreds more shot and wounded every day in this country.
Orange was the color Hadiya Pendleton’s friends wore after she was shot and killed at 15 years old — just one week after performing in President Obama’s second inaugural parade. They chose orange because it’s the color hunters wear to protect themselves in the woods, as a way to say “don’t shoot.”
Their efforts sparked a national movement, and today, Wear Orange honors Hadiya, as well as every survivor and victim of gun violence.
Wear Orange is a promise that we all can, and must, do more to reduce gun violence in our communities. I urge all of you to join a Wear Orange event this weekend. You can find a Wear Orange event in your community here.
Kelly Murphy is the mother of two children who survived the shooting at STEM Highlands Ranch School on May 7, 2019. She lives in Littleton, Colorado, and is a member of the Everytown Survivor Network and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.