Since the mass shooting in the Oregon District two months ago, the gun violence in America has continued at a staggering pace.
Consider this weekend:
• Four shot dead when a man opened fire on an apartment complex in Chicago.
• Four people shot to death at a gambling site in Brooklyn.
• Two people – including the presiding bishop – shot during a wedding service in New Hampshire.
And before 10 people (including the shooter) were killed and 27 injured here in the Aug. 4 rampage on E. Fifth Street, gun victims in Ohio were falling by the thousands.
From 2007 through 2018, gunshots killed 16,374 in Ohio. Almost 60 percent of them were suicides. That leaves nearly 6,660 people shot and killed by someone else.
One of those victims was Edward “Eddie” Powers – once a promising AAU basketball player — who was shot and killed just before midnight on May 6, 2013 at the Whitney Young apartments on Germantown Pike
His mother, the Rev. Crystal Walker — a Meadowdale High School and University of Louisville grad who is now the co-pastor of the Summit Christian Church on Denlinger Road in Trotwood — talked about him Sunday afternoon during a panel on gun violence at the Dayton Peace Festival.
The three-day festival – which runs today until 4 p.m. – was organized by Chris Borland, the former Alter High School, Wisconsin and San Francisco 49ers football standout who now lives in Los Angeles.
He was so stirred by the Oregon District shooting that he vowed to do what he could to lift his hometown and address some of the issues surrounding killings in particular and gun violence in general.
The three-day event – held at the Dayton International Peace Museum downtown – has included several prominent athletes from the area in attendance.
Sunday’s session featured panels on gun violence, mental health and racism. Each included policy makers, political types and people directly affected by the issues and no one had a more personal take on gun violence than did Rev. Walker.
She told Sunday’s crowd how she had awakened at her Indianapolis home in the middle of that May 2013 night and found her phone filled with messages from her parents, her son, members of the Summit Christian Church and other people back in Dayton.
She called her son and found out her other son – Eddie – had been killed after a “dice game.”
“He was a very giving guy, but unfortunately he wasn’t perfect,” she told me the other day. “We don’t know for sure, but the dispute might have been over drugs. I didn’t find out until he was murdered that he’d been dealing drugs.”
The day after Eddie’s murder – for which no one has ever been charged – a vigil was held in his honor at a makeshift memorial of flowers and photos placed in the Whitney Young parking lot. A 16-year-old boy in attendance was grazed in the head by a bullet after someone shot into the crowd.
Again, no one was arrested.
Three months later, three guys were shot in the very same parking lot and 19-year old Martell Gray was killed. Two years before that, 25-year-old Essie Obong Jr. was shot and killed there, too.
Sunday’s discussion – which had Lisa Geller, a policy coordinator for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and Desiree Tims, the Democratic candidate for Ohio’s 10th Congressional District on the panel with Walker – took place in front of an audience that included former Major League Soccer standout Chris Rolfe and former football players like Ohio State’s Donnie Evege, Wisconsin’s Josh Harrison and Bowling Green’s Ron Todd, who now works for Ohio governor Mike DeWine.
The discussion focused, at times on how mass shootings garner most of the media attention, while the overwhelming number of gun deaths in poverty areas get far less coverage and political attention.
That no one was held accountable for her son’s death further contributed to crushing sense of loss Rev. Walker felt afterward.
“I went through all the things you go through in grief – the disbelief, the anger – and I went into a real deep depression were I wasn’t getting up and I couldn’t do anything. The trauma was just too much.”
A friend who had gone through ministerial training with her eventually got her in touch with a spiritual advisor who, she said, ended up being “one of the only people who just listened to what I had to say and the way I said it.”
She began to speak about her son’s death and became active in the Christian-based Kairos Prison Ministry, working especially at the women’s reformatory in Marysville and the Dayton Correctional Institution.
She said a couple of years after her son’s death, she was involved in a weekend session with women prisoners at DCI. After speaking one day she said sat down at a table with inmates:
“The woman next to me said. ‘You mind telling me your son’s name?’ I did and she goes, ‘I knew him! He was my friend. He helped me out of a dark place so many times. He’d give you the shirt off his back. He was a good guy. He was….”
Rev. Walker’s voice trailed off and tears spilled from her eyes until she reached for a tissue.
Breaking the cycle
After Meadowdale, she went to the University of Louisville.
She married for the first time at 19, a union that lasted just three months because her husband was abusive.
Over the years there were more marriages and more domestic abuse situations.
“I had low self-esteem and because of it I thought I had to be with a guy who was really good looking, no matter how they treated me,” she said.
She finally broke the cycle, in part, thanks to her work in prison’s where she found 60 percent of the women had been involved in abusive relationships.
She eventually met her current husband, the Reverend Shelby Walker, the senior pastor at Summit Christian and a former Indianapolis policeman. And for the first time in her married life she didn’t endure bruises and threats and constant berating.
For the past 11 years the couple has lived part time in Indianapolis and in Dayton.
Eddie had reached the cusp of basketball stardom in Indianapolis, but became more enticed by the streets in Dayton.
“He was a really kind soul and we loved each other to pieces, but he went his own way,” Rev. Walker said.
She said some of the best tonic in dealing with his loss has come in watching his daughter – her granddaughter – Lilianna grow up. She’s eight now and lives in Atlanta, but she keeps her dad’s memory alive for Rev. Walker.
“Lilliana looks like him and acts like him and she often brings him up,” Rev. Walker said.
“She likes balloons and not long after her dad died, she lost a balloon. She used to go through this big ‘ol spell about it, but this time was different. She said, ‘That’s OK, Daddy will catch it in heaven!’”
And again Rev. Walker found herself reduced to tears.
Pain rekindled by Oregon District shooting
When the Oregon District shooting occurred, Rev. Walker initially didn’t think the loss and pain she had felt over her own son’s murder six years earlier would be rekindled.
“And I didn’t think it was, but my spiritual advisor pointed out some things. He noticed the anxiety I was going through again. He said the shooting had triggered it.”
Although she didn’t know any of those killed, she was familiar with a young man who got caught in the heart of the violence that might.
“One of the members of our church, his son who is a football player here, he was standing behind the shooter when he turned with his gun.
“The guy was with his girlfriend and they both ran. He went more quickly and when he turned he saw his girlfriend on the ground. She was lying beneath one of the victims who had been murdered, She broke her ankle.”
As she thought about the emotions that scenes like that brought back up, she again embraced the tonic of her granddaughter
She held up a photo of the young girl she keeps near her desk and smiled:
“My son wanted her middle name to be special, so her name is Lilianna Storie Mae.
“He said his daughter would be his story so he made her middle name Storie Mae. He said she’d be his legacy, the person who made you think about him and talk about him and one day tell his story.”
Sunday was that day.
It’s when Rev. Walker told the hushed Peace Festival crowd about her son and the effects gun violence has had on her and so many thousands of other families in Ohio.