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At vigil for gun violence victims, parents speak of grief, loss

vigil gun violence st. john's remember reflect respond
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Anaya Chenna, 5, of St. Louis, participates in a candlelight vigil aimed at raising awareness of the toll of gun violence in St. Louis at Saint John's United Church of Christ on Dec. 13, 2015.

When he heard that his son had been shot, Rev. Ken McKoy felt the 15-minute drive to the hospital was the longest he has ever taken. His son’s life flashed before his eyes.

“I thought about him as a little boy. I was an organizer for ACORN, and I heard his voice saying, ‘I wanna be an organizer like my dad,’” McKoy said from the podium as he choked back tears. He said his son, Lyndon, survived being shot with an AK-47 — but the incident left Mckoy with a question: 

“How does a Soviet-made, military grade automatic weapon wind up off North Market (Street)?” McKoy said.  

The vigil served as St. Louis’ answer to a nationwide call to remember all lives lost to gun violence in the days leading up to the anniversary of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. For two hours on Sunday afternoon, about a hundred people gathered at St. John’s Church in north St. Louis. Three parents, including McKoy, spoke in honor of their children.  

Saint John's United Church vigil gun violence Kenneth McKoy
Credit FIle photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Rev. Kenneth McKoy, of Progressive AME Zion Church, raises a candle at a Sunday afternoon vigil calling for an end to gun violence in St. Louis at Saint John's United Church of Christ.

St. Louis has seen 186 homicides so far this year, nearly all of them involving guns. It’s on track to be the worst murder rate the city has seen since the early 1990s.

“What are we going to do to make sure that no other family has to feel this pain?” said Valerie Dent, who lost two of her sons in a double shooting on their way home from work on Sept. 5, 2014. Today, she leads STL Mothers in Charge, which advocates for an end to gun violence. 

Valerie Dent, president of STL Mothers in Charge, speaks about lives lost to gun violence in St. Louis, including two of her sons.

“James had a smile. Oh, my god, it would just make you happy. He had two younger children, and he was really, really active in their lives,” Dent said. 

Her younger son, Steve, was 24 when he died, Dent said. He was the kind of brother who would take over when his older brother was too busy to run his lawn care business, Dent said. Sometimes he would cut neighboring lawns for free if a client couldn’t pay, Dent remembered, that’s the kind of young man he was.

“Even today, I’m working around the house and I’ll go, 'Steve.' But he can’t help me anymore. He’s not there,” Dent said. 

gun violence vigil Saint John's church valerie dent lois schaffer
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Valerie Dent, president of STL Mothers in Charge, and Lois Schaffer, author of "The Unthinkable," have both lost children to gun violence.

Lois Schaffer's daughter was shot and killed during a 2008 home invasion in Creve Coeur, and makes a plea for gun safety legislation.

Lois Schaffer lost her daughter Susan in 2008. Susan, a 48-year-old aerobics instructor and mother of three, was murdered during a home invasion in Creve Coeur. When Schaffer took to the podium, she called for an end to the wanton accessibility of guns throughout the country.

“I am speaking to you not only as a human being, but as a mother,” Schaffer said. “I accept the fact that there are those who like to hunt or shoot for recreation. It’s the lack of sensible gun legislation, the lack of more stringent background checks and licensing, the need for safe storage legislation, and the crazy acceptance of concealed weapons, that boggles my mind.”

Starsky Wilson gun violence
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Rev. Starsky Wilson welcomes guests to Saint John's United Church of Christ at the start of "Remember, Reflect, Respond," a candlelight vigil calling for an end to gun violence.

Follow Durrie (@durrieB) and Carolina (@CarolinaHidalgo) for more news from St. Louis.