When I was 15, my mother pulled me out of class to tell me that my father had shot himself and was on life support. He died at the hospital two days later. His name was Jim Russell, and he was a 43-year-old husband, father of two, and doctor in Conroe, Texas.
My father was a very sensitive, caring man. He practiced internal medicine, and he was well-known in our small town. He was generous, maybe to a fault. But he struggled with depression and his personal life suffered because of it. When my parents divorced, I noticed a change in my father, but I was young and focused on my own activities.
After he died, I wanted to move on quickly so I avoided talking about it. Years later, I was in an acting class in New York City and the teacher asked everyone to reveal something deeply personal to the rest of the class. I thought, “Okay, here we go. I’m going to share my story.”
What happened next was unexpected and hurtful: The teacher silently motioned for the rest of the class to leave the room, and she followed. I realized I had made a lot of people uncomfortable. It was clear that they were not committed to listening to me, so I went back to staying quiet about my experience. That changed when I became involved with Moms Demand Action and the Everytown Survivor Network.
I’ve always been politically active and I was particularly interested in gun violence prevention. I used to hold protest signs outside of a state lawmaker’s office, and that’s how I connected with Moms Demand Action. I was invited to a meeting at the home of a survivor, Stephanie Stone, and people began telling their stories. This was the first time I heard—really heard—anyone share the pain they suffered after losing a loved one to gun violence. At that moment I realized I was a gun violence survivor, too. I had never identified as one before.
I was the last one to speak, and I couldn’t say much because I didn’t know how. As the meeting was wrapping up, the women hugged me and told me we were all family. That’s exactly what I needed to hear. Now I know that when you lose family, you realize just how much you need it. Stephanie, Sharmaine Brown, Julvonnia McDowell, and all of the other survivors I’ve met are my family.
Since my involvement with the Everytown Survivor Network, I have continued protesting against gun violence. I submitted a No Guns on Campus resolution to the faculty senate at Georgia Gwinnett College, where I am a biology professor. I’m also a faculty advisor for the Students Demand Action chapter on my campus, which is one of my proudest accomplishments related to gun violence prevention.
Suicide is preventable. We need to continue advocating for policy changes to disrupt access to guns in times of crisis. More people need to start standing up and taking action against gun violence.
The Everytown Survivor Network has allowed me to help my fellow survivors just as they’ve helped me. I recently started facilitating grief support groups, and I would encourage others who have lost a loved one to suicide, especially young people, to be around others who are committed to listening to them. It will take a while to sort through what happened, and it’s important to not bury those feelings.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text HOME to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line for free from anywhere in the U.S.
Join the Everytown Survivor Network
The Everytown Survivor Network welcomes anyone who has personally experienced gun violence, including gun suicide.Learn More
Everytown Survivor Network and Moms Demand Action volunteer