Valerie Dent remembers the exact time her sons 31-year-old James and 24-year-old Steven were shot and killed Sept. 5, 2014. It was 7:45 a.m. when James, a father of two, and his brother had just stepped of the bus they rode home from work on a day that saw six gun homicides within 18 hours.
"I was in shock. I just could not believe that I lost two of my children, my youngest boys, to senseless violence," she said. "How do you tell two of your grandchildren that they lost one of their parents to senseless killing?"
Dent is president of Mothers in Charge, a group of women whose members have each lost children to gun homicides. She will be one of the featured speakers at candlelight vigil Sunday at St. John’s Church (The Beloved Community), 4136 North Grand Blvd.
The vigil is part of a nationwide series the Newtown Foundation started after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. It is being hosted by a local group, Women's Voices Raised for Social Justice. The group wants vigil attendees to not only remember victims of gun violence, but reflect and respond to the rising homicide rate in St. Louis, co-founder Barbara Finch said.
On Sunday, Women's Voices will hand out free gun locks and show attendees how to use them. This is part of its "Lock it for Love" program aimed at preventing gun accidents in homes with young children. The group will also display a quilt by The Faces Project with the faces of 21 young St. Louis residents killed by gun violence.
Dent, who met Finch at a vigil held after the accidental shooting of 2-year-old Carter Epps in Hanley Hills, said she is speaking because she wants to do what she can to prevent other mothers from experiencing what she went through.
"If I can just speak out and maybe get three or four people - just one person - to not go through what I'm feeling, that means a lot to me," she said. "Because we can’t save James and Steve, we can’t save them; but maybe I can help save another mother’s child.”
New York resident Lois Schaffer documented the turmoil she experienced after her daughter was killed in Creve Coeur in 2008 in her book, "The Unthinkable." She wrote the book and speaks publicly to raise awareness about gun violence. Susan Schaffer, 48, was shot when she interrupted a robbery of her home by two 17-year-old neighbors.
"I could've gone into a corner and sucked my thumb, and all I would've gotten was a sore thumb," she said. "My feeling was that if I could do something to help others, I should. When lives are at stake you got to do something about it."
The Rev. Ken McCoy of Progressive AME Zion Church, who leads St. Louis clergy in walking the streets of north St. Louis neighborhoods as a visible "ministry of presence" to prevent gun violence, will also be a featured speaker. The St. Pious V Catholic Church choir will sing and local rapper C Sharp will perform his song "Put the Pistol Down," which focuses on gun violence.
The vigil will end with a call to action by Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation, a longtime St. Louis activist who highlighted gun violence prevention efforts by Mothers In Charge and Women's Voices Raised during a visit to the White House on Wednesday.
Dent said gun violence can be reduced with education and awareness about its consequences.
"I want those committing gun violence to think," she said. "Think about your actions. Think about what you're doing. God gives life. Man should not have the right to take what God has given. If you just stopped to think before you acted, maybe this would cut down on this nonsense, this senseless killing for absolutely no reason."