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Pain into motivation: Gun violence survivor advocates for changes

A gun violence survivor says legislation won't be the only answer to solving the nation's gun violence epidemic.
Pain into motivation: Gun violence survivor advocates for changes
Posted at 5:51 PM, Jan 24, 2024

Tyreese McAllister has worked with the police in the Washington, D.C. area for years, arriving to the scene to calm and counsel victims after tragedies — only to become a victim herself.

McAllister still remembers the sense of humor, the optimism and the smile of her daughter Ayana.

"I could have a bad day and she would smile at me and it would just change everything," she told Scripps News. 

Ayana, affectionately known as "Lollipop," was in college studying to become a detective in 2017.

She was home for spring break when she was shot and killed in Northeast D.C. There were no cameras in the area and police never found the shooter. The details McAllister knows are from Ayana's sister and friends who were there at the time. 

"There was no fight, no argument, nothing. They don't have even a motive of why someone will do that," she stated. 

McAllister, a psychologist who worked with trauma victims, and her husband say they "checked all the boxes," but it wasn't enough.

"Even though my children grew up in a well-adjusted household, two-parent household, parents have great careers, we go to church, we serve in our community as a family — but this still got to us. My children had been to five funerals before they finished high school," she recalled. 

Just three weeks into 2024 , the U.S. has seen more than 2,400 gun violence deaths; more than 1,500 from suicides, and hundreds more from homicides and unintentional firings, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

That includes nearly 100 children and teens.

"Guns are the No. 1 killer of children and teens in the United States. No other form, whether it's car accidents, drownings, suffocation, no other cause is higher than guns," said Sarah Burd-Sharps with Everytown for Gun Safety. 

"When you look at children, in particular, children who are growing up in this generation where they're having these drills constantly in their school, they're seeing this on TV, the lockdowns, you know, in the local mall, we're shaping an entire generation of schoolchildren who are really traumatized by the gun violence in this country," she continued. 

Burd-Sharps says the incidents are widespread.

SEE MORE: Justice Department stops 500 illegal gun purchases with bipartisan act

According to data from Pew Research, in 2021 the greatest number of gun deaths by suicide occurred in Wyoming, Montana and Alaska.

The places with the highest gun-related murder rates included Mississippi, Louisiana and D.C.

McAllister says her training has helped her cope, while adding that no amount of training could prepare her for the loss of a child.  

She says her faith has helped her forgive and she's on a mission to help others. She started a foundation to raise awareness about gun violence and help area children, and published a book called "Is My Lollipop in Heaven" to help the youngest survivors.

"That's the thing that I would wish for all families who are in my position, that even though you're incredibly sad, truly heartbroken, that the joy never leaves your life," she began. 

"I never lost faith in God. I never blamed God. I was actually grateful because I know God blessed me with a child and I had an amazing 18 years with her," she continued. 

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