Evanston mother represents son killed by gunfire at State of the Union address
Carolyn Murray wipes her eye as she holds a photo of her son Justin during President Barack Obama' State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Feb. 12, 2013. Murray was shot and killed in Evanston, Ill. Nov. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Updated: February 13, 2013 10:35AM
EVANSTON — Somebody asked Carolyn Murray whether she would stop her gun control efforts if police arrest the killer of her son, Justin.
“If Justin wasn’t the reason I started, why would Justin be the reason I stopped?” the Evanston resident answered
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky announced Feb. 8 that Murray would be her guest for the President’s State of the Union Address. The congresswoman cited the community activist’s fortitude in carrying through with a community gun buyback program Dec. 15, only weeks after her son’s shooting death.
With President Barack Obama declaring that gun-related violence would be a “central issue” for his second term, Schakowsky and other members of Congress invited people impacted by gun violence to be their guests at the address.
“Ms. Murray has turned her pain into power through her tireless work against gun violence, and she is truly making a difference in our community, preventing further violence and saving lives,” Schakowsky said. “Our home district in Illinois has seen a great deal of gun violence already this year. It’s crucial that we take action against gun violence so that we can prevent the senseless deaths in the future.”
Murray’s son Justin, 19, was back in town only four hours on Nov. 29 when was shot on the steps of his grandmother’s house on Brown Avenue.
Police believe he was the unintended victim in a series of shootings that involved warring families and individuals that stretches back a half dozen years.
Carolyn Murray was the prime force behind the the one-day gun buyback event in which Evanston police collected nearly 50 firearms, including 26 handguns, 15 rifles and four shotguns. Each weapon was purchased for $100, funded by donations under the program Murray helped design.
Murray, 43, said Thursday she didn’t get a “warm and fuzzy” feeling initially when she talked to the Schakowsky’s office about the invitation.
Then, thinking about her anti-violence efforts, which date back to 2006, she decided it was a good opportunity.
She intends to bring her 15-year-old daughter Ashton, an honor roll student at Evanston Township High School, with her to Washington, she said.
That way Ashton “could understand all the work and the reason why she had to rush through dinners so we could go out to meetings. It meant something: that Justin didn’t just die in vain, that (the efforts) are really making a difference and the world is not so bad. It’s more important for young people to get involved on this just as much as we are.”
Murray, co-chairmain of the Fifth Ward Citizens Committee, began organizing the gun buyback program in July, in response to hearing frequent gunshots outside her window.
“I had a conversation with (Fifth Ward) Alderman (Delores) Holmes, and she said we had increased gun-related crimes in the ward,” Murray said.
Murray formed a team that included the city’s youth liaison, the police department’s ward community officer and a representative from the Illinois State Police.
The group used unconventional efforts to spread the word. Justin, before his death, had been advising his mother on strategies she could use to bring in the maximum number of guns.
In 2006, she organized a candlelight vigil that drew some 1,500 people in memory of Darryl Shannon Pickett, an Evanston Township High School student who was fatally shot in an alley near the high school.
As a U.S. Navy reservist, Murray said she understands the concept of needing to protect oneself, but some of the guns that came through the buyback program went well beyond that purpose.
Strong gun laws “are really necessary,’’ right now, she said.
“Any potential victim on the streets needs to be protected.”