Mothers of victims take stand against gun violence

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The women who make up Mother’s In Charge meet about once a week in Harrisburg. They may have been strangers before, but now they are family; brought together by tragedy.

Most of the women in the group have lost someone to a bullet.

“We all share the same pain and we all share different pain,” chapter leader Lisa Burhannan said.

Mothers In Charge is a national nonprofit that focuses on fighting gun violence through intervention, prevention, and grief support.

“I lost my son, Darryl Lamar Evans Jr.,” Burhannan said. “Instead of me being angry and mad and hurt, I wanted to redirect that into helping other mothers and families.”

When Harrisburg police respond to a deadly shooting, members of the group are called. They are part of the first response team.

“We are there on the scene to be there for the families to help them through their grief,” Burhannan said.

Burhannan was there for fellow group member Cheryl Hughes twice. Hughes lost sons Charles Tate and Malik Mundy to gun violence.

“I lost two in eight months. I don’t know how to deal with life. I am used to seeing my boys every day, and this is what I have to wear now,” Cheryl said, pointing to her shirt with her son’s pictures.

“Your child can be brought up in a good home and they can be taught morals and values and how to love, but once they get into that society, it’s an addiction. It sucks and draws them in, and they feel like they have to live up to this image to survive,” Burhannan said.

That’s why this group is trying to make a change on the streets of Harrisburg.

“More programs for youth, more jobs, give kids something to do,” grief counselor Denae House said.

Sometimes their fight takes them to the Capitol.

“We do support universal background checks,” Burhannan said. “Am I going to try and ban [guns]? No, but if it ends up in the wrong hands, senseless crimes, senseless homicides, senseless death, then yes, I am against it.”

There are 12 chapters of Mothers in Charge across the nation. Dorothy Johnson-Speight of Philadelphia is the founder.

“I started Mothers In Charge as a way to deal with everything that I felt as a result of the murder of my 24-year-old son,” Johnson-Speight said.

Khaaliq Johnson was murdered in Philadelphia in 2001, shot seven times by his neighbor over a parking spot. His killer, Ernest Odom Jr., was sentenced to life in prison.

“He should never have owned a gun. He had a history of criminal activity, I think some mental health challenges. What we learned in the trial is the girlfriend purchased the gun for him,” Johnson-Speight said.

It’s called a straw purchase. When someone with a clean record buys a gun for someone who cannot legally purchase, it’s illegal, but Johnson-Speight says when those guns are used in crimes, the person who bought the gun can avoid prosecution.

“I think oftentimes they get away because they can say the gun was lost or the gun was stolen, and because there is no penalty or no effort in place now to report guns that are lost or stolen, there is no consequence,” she said.

Mothers In Charge supports legislation that would require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns, which the group believes would cut down on straw purchases.

“Our children have a right to live in a safe community free of guns in the hands of people that shouldn’t have them,” Johnson-Speight said.

The Harrisburg chapter continues to grow.

“It is bittersweet,” Burhannan said. “We are glad we can be here for support, but we want to see an end to the violence.”

“It has been a lot of love and support,” Jamillah London said.

London’s son, Anthony Ramsey Jr., was shot and killed in 2012.

“I think a lot of mothers keep themselves locked in, which I did,” she said. “You are scared. You are fearful of being judged and of what can happen to you when you speak out. I think that a lot of mothers need to start speaking out and speaking up.”

The group is using its voice for those who can no longer speak.

“Let’s get involved and take our community back,” Burhannan said. “Today was my child, tomorrow it could be yours, so we have to come together as one.”

The ABC27 Investigators series on guns continues Friday at 5:30 p.m. with an in-depth look at classes for gun owners with concealed carry permits.

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