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Gun Violence Memorial Project: Objects to remember those taken by gun violence

When Olga Loto Williams visited the Gun Violence Memorial Project at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., she shed tears in memory of her bonus son, Dominique Xavier Milton Williams. She and her family cried and prayed for Dominique and all of the families whose loved ones are represented in the glass bricks in the exhibit. She calls the exhibit, “peaceful and filled with love from families.” 

The Gun Violence Memorial Project is a partnership with MASS Design Group, conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas, Purpose Over Pain, and Everytown for Gun Safety. The exhibit features four houses composed of 700 glass bricks. Each house represents the average number of lives taken by gun violence in a week in America. Inside each individual brick is the name of someone taken by gun violence in this country, along with remembrance objects contributed by their family members.

“Every day hundreds are injured physically, mentally, and emotionally by gun violence,” Julvonnia McDowell, the mother of 14-year-old JaJuan McDowell who was killed in 2016, shared. “Displaying a part of your loved ones is a way to honor them and keep all their memories alive. The people represented in the Gun Violence Memorial Project are not just statistics—their lives mattered.”

Get to know a few of those who are memorialized in the Gun Violence Memorial Project exhibit.

Cory “ACE” Crowe

Corey “Ace” Crowe Sr. was shot and killed on October 25, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. His homicide remains unsolved. His mother, Rose, has since created a nonprofit, The Ace Project, to keep her son’s memory alive and support the youth in her community by offering grief support meetings and activities for adolescents impacted by gun violence.  

At the Gun Violence Memorial Project, the glass brick in remembrance of Corey includes a football sticker to represent his time playing and coaching football, a photo, and a pamphlet for The Ace Project. 

Rose misses her son deeply, and reminisces about his unselfish heart and compassionate acts of volunteering with her. “My son had a son and he was involved in his child’s life. This is traumatic and has a life-altering effect on the youth and the families of the ones lost to gun violence,” his mother expressed.

Shane Diego Ernesto Colombo

Shane Diego Ernesto Colombo was 25 years old and about to begin work on his PhD at Northwestern University when he was shot and killed in Chicago, Illinois. Shane moved from California to Chicago on September 2, 2018, into his new condo he had recently purchased with his fiancé, Vincent. That same day, while walking home, and just five minutes away, he was caught in the middle of a crossfire and was killed.

Shane, who previously worked as a researcher in a neuroscience lab at Columbia University, was fascinated with the brain and thrived in an educational setting. The remembrance objects on display at the Gun Violence Memorial speak to those same qualities.

“I chose a sash from Shane’s graduation when he received his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from San Francisco State University. It was a fraternity sash that signified his commitment to not only the fraternity but to his community,” Tonya Colombo, Shane’s mother, shared. “Shane loved academia and that whole environment. It was something that was very close to his heart.”

His loved ones remember Shane as someone who was beautiful inside and out, smart, calm but driven, silly, and fun to be around—“someone that really made this world a little brighter.” Tonya hopes that the others are deeply impacted by the photos and objects in memory of her son and others in the Gun Violence Memorial Project. “By someone physically seeing the sheer number of beautiful souls lost to senseless gun violence, I hope people will really realize that enough is enough,” she expressed.

Greg, Sarah, Zephaniah, Jael, and Angelina Griego

The Griego family has experienced immeasurable loss: In January 2013, Greg and Sarah Griego, along with their children, 9 year-old son Zephaniah, 5 year-old Jael and 2 year-old Angelina, were all shot and killed in New Mexico.  They were killed by their 15-year-old son who suffered a psychotic break while having access to several unsecured firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition. At the Gun Violence Memorial Project, five bricks sit next to each other in the exhibit to represent the Griego family and the objects and activities they cherished. 

In Greg’s glass brick: A bible, a fire department chaplain sticker, a rock, and his photo. For Sarah: a rose, a music sticker, a heart stone, and a picture of her and her husband. In remembrance of  Zephaniah: a miniature drum set, a wrestling medal, a heart stone, and his photo. For Jael: a little stuffed monkey, two pieces from a miniature tea set, and her photo. In Angelica’s memory: a porcelain angel, two doves with her name on one and her sister’s name on the other, a rose, and her photo. 

“Generational trauma is at the heart of what happened to my family,” Regina M. Griego, Greg’s sister, shared. “So many systems failed that led to what happened… If those firearms would not have been in that house that fateful night, I would have my brother and his family, and our extended family would not have splintered the way it did.”

Krissia Henderson Burrus

Krissia Henderson Burrus was a 20-year-old college student who wanted to make a difference. She was studying criminal justice with aspirations of becoming a police officer focused on forensic science when her life was cut short. On August 25, 2018, Krissia was driving to dinner and the movies to celebrate the birthday of her passenger, when people in another car pulled up alongside and shot at her vehicle several times, killing Krissia and wounding her passenger.  Her case remains unsolved. 

“My daughter was on the right path to make a difference,” Kristy Burrus, Krissia’s mother, expressed. “She left my home wearing new clothes, expressing how happy she was, saying ‘I’ll see you later.’ Later just never happened.”

She had a contagious smile and lit up every room she was in. Krissia was a cheerleader with a kind heart, which is why her family chose to honor her memory at the Gun Violence Memorial Project with a cheerleading bracelet from her high school. “I miss her sassiness, her spoiled demeanor, and everything else about her,” Kristy Burrus, Krissia’s mother, shared. 

Laura, Sarah, Rachel, and April Hope Magee

Laura Magee and daughters, 5-year-old Sarah, 3-year-old Rachel, and 5-month-old April Hope, were killed in a domestic incident on September 11, 1995. Laura’s estranged husband was able to purchase a gun, despite a restraining order against him, and shot and killed his family on Sarah’s first day of kindergarten. Laura’s mother, who witnessed the attack, was also shot and wounded, but survived.

Inside the glass bricks for each of her four family members are objects that brought them joy, shared Doreen Dodgen-Magee, Laura’s sister-in-law. “My sister-in-law didn’t have much, but she made a lot of what she had,” she shared.

Laura sewed beautiful clothing, so her glass brick is filled with her button jar and sewing tape. Sarah’s brick includes a certificate from her first day of kindergarten—the day that she was killed. Rachel loved everything sparkly, so her brick includes her favorite scrunchie that she wore in her hair. Both Sarah and Rachel’s brick also include pieces from their grandmother’s tea set that they loved to play with. This is especially meaningful since their grandmother was shot and injured trying to protect them. The youngest of the children, April Hope, was only 5 months old when she was killed. Her glass brick includes the birth cap from the hospital and her mother’s admitting bracelet from the delivery, “to honor her tiny, but massively important, life.”

Jasmine McAfee

Jasmine McAfee was 24 years old on March 26, 2016, when she was shot in the back several times and killed while trying to escape a person who was holding her at gunpoint in Apopka, Florida. Friends and family remember Jasmine’s unique laughter.

In her memory, a blue sapphire heart necklace for her birth month of September sits in the glass brick at the Gun Violence Memorial.

Her cousin, Rovina Terry Billingslea, helps keep her memory alive through her work as an advisor for Students Demand Action, and now as a Survivor Fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network. “I want others to see the loss from the family perspective and that the individual mattered,” Rovina expressed.

JaJuan McDowell

JaJuan McDowell had an easy-going personality, an infectious smile, and was always full of joy. The 14-year-old loved helping others and often volunteered in his community. He also loved to wear bowties. His memorial object in the Gun Violence Memorial Project is the bowtie he hoped to wear to his spring formal—an event he would never have the chance to attend. 

“I wanted to share with the world his last bowtie worn,” Julvonnia McDowell, JaJuan’s mother, shared. “He never got the opportunity to learn how to tie his first tie.”

JaJuan was shot and killed by a 13-year-old who gained access to an unsecured firearm on April 7, 2016. He had just celebrated his 14th birthday a month earlier and was on spring break visiting family when he was killed. “All the birthdays, holidays, and plans were an instant memory,” his mother expressed.

Dominique Xavier Milton Williams

Dominique Xavier Milton Williams was a passionate drummer with a memorable laugh and smile—and he loved to dress. He had just turned 17 nine days before he was killed. He is now memorialized in the Gun Violence Memorial Project with a blue bowtie and a cube of photos, “so the world can see the contagious smile that Dominique had and the family that forever loves him and misses him so very much,” his bonus mom, Olga Loto Williams, shared.

He was spending time with family in Hilton Head, South Carolina, when he got in an altercation with another teenager. He was shot and killed by the 15-year-old on July 19, 2015. To honor Dominique, Olga and her husband Leroy created an organization called Dominique’s World, where they collaborate on mentor initiatives that bring awareness to gun violence prevention, including hosting an annual all-male fashion show called “BowTies and Blazers” where they award scholarships, honor lives stolen by gun violence, and celebrate the accomplishments of young men in the community. 

“I want people to understand that once that life is taken by gun violence it is final,” Olga expressed. “Dreams and aspirations are all ended and WE the families are left with memories and our voices to continue to say our loved ones name.”

Visit the Gun Violence Memorial Project in Washington, D.C.

The Gun Violence Memorial Project is on display at the National Building Museum through September 25, 2022.

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