NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – When you’ve lost a loved one to gun violence, you’re looking for hope. Hope that you can come to terms with your grief. Hope that somehow, some way, gun violence can be reduced.

WAVY-TV 10 and FOX 43 are partnering with the Urban Renewal Center for a special program as part of our Taking Back the Community initiative. An Evening of Hope is coming up Tuesday, Oct. 18, at Harrison Opera House. It intends to unite the community and honor those who were killed by gun violence.

10 On Your Side spoke with two family members and the head of the trauma unit at Sentara Norfolk General Medical Center to see how families are affected and assess the scope of gun violence in Hampton Roads.

Sheri Johnson of Virginia Beach showed us her shirt, her purse and her headband. Each bears the name or likeness of her nephew, Jawan Johnson. He was gunned down at a gas station on Lynnhaven Parkway on May 31.

“Having someone’s picture on your shirt, that’s not cool. Because you want them here physically,” she said. “Jawan had just left my home within 20 minutes of him being murdered.”

She has fond memories of the former star football player at Salem High School.

“He always said ‘auntie, when I make it, I’m gonna buy you this car and I’m gonna put you in this house.’ He was just a loving brother.”

The locket around Rebecca Wilson’s neck bears the picture of her son, Maurice. Next to it is her son’s gold cross that she gave him for his 18th birthday.

But Maurice Wilson did not make it to his 19th birthday, just as Jawan Johnson did not live to see his 20th. Wilson was shot in the head at Etheridge Lakes Park 13 months ago, less than a mile from his Chesapeake home.

“Ever since he was little, I knew he was gonna make a change in this world, and I’m very adamant that just because he’s not here physically anymore, he’s still making a change,” Wilson said about carrying her son’s legacy.

No one has been arrested in either case.

“It’s just unimaginable,” Wilson said. “It literally feels like a dream every day, and it just hits me, random, like ‘dang, I’m not gonna hear his voice again.'”

Dr. Jay Collins has worked in the trauma unit of Sentara Norfolk General for more than 20 years.
His patients keep getting younger and younger.

“It’s especially sad when you see 15, 16, 17-year-old kids shot,” he said.

And the weapons and ammunition are getting more sophisticated.

“There are more severe wounds, larger caliber, some of these missiles that fragment when they hit you. I see a lot more people that are shot multiple times, too,” Collins said.

“The type of guns they’re getting. [Young] people are getting AKs! What are you doing at 17,18 and 19 with AKs?” Johnson asked, referring to assault-style weapons.

To some young people, getting shot is a rite of passage and a mark of bravado.

“They’ll sit here and tell me ‘Doc, I don’t expect to live past 25,” Collins said. “A lot of the kids that are shot that don’t have serious injuries interestingly enough kind of wear it as a badge of honor.”

“It is heartbreaking that these young men and women feel that way – ‘I’m not gonna live to 25?’ that’s deep. That’s intense,” Wilson said.

“Most trauma patients are younger, and again, if you’re paralyzed or significantly injured, you may no longer be able to work. So there’s a huge loss to the community,” Collins said, adding that medical professionals are increasingly looking at the social and cultural damage done by gun violence as they would with a disease.

The Evening of Hope event will honor those killed by gun violence and recognize the impact on the families left behind.

“You have people there initially, and then they come to the funeral, and then they get to go home and it feels like everybody got to go back to their normal life but you,” Wilson said. “When I heard about this event, I was just ecstatic, wow, there are people you know that do care.”

“Every day, we grieve. Every day, a lot of us fight to get out of our beds. Every day a lot of us fight to wake up,” Johnson said. “So this event is giving us hope!”

An Evening of Hope is free and open to the public.