Durham, N.C. — City and county leaders pledged Thursday to intensify efforts to reduce gun violence in Durham, saying the shooting death last weekend of a 9-year-old boy had brought them together for action.
Our hearts are broken: Durham officials address wave of gun violence, crime throughout city
But for Sandra Person, the loss of her grandson Zyon has broken her family while steeling her resolve to make sure his death has meaning.
Durham police chief, sheriff and others leaders commit to stemming gun violence
“What happened was very senseless,” Person said. “This has to stop. I mean, people run around here shooting people, for what reason? Theres no reason at all that anybody needs to have a gun and just go around shooting people.”
“This senseless, unspeakable act has galvanized our community for action,” Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said about Zyons death at an afternoon news conference. “This is a tragedy beyond words, but it is not a tragedy beyond action.
“While we mourn, we must act,” Schewel said. “We cannot accept the level of gun violence that exists in our society in general and in Durham in particular.”
Person said five of her grandchildren were heading out for some ice cream Sunday night with one of her daughters, Zyons aunt, when bullets strafed their car near the intersection of Duke and Leon streets.
“When Zyon got shot, his sister was right there. He fell right into her arms,” Person said. “Shes traumatized the rest of her life. All my grandkids are traumatized.”
“This is something that is going to stick with them the rest of their lives because they were there,” she added. “Theyre not the same kids I saw last week. Their whole life changed because of what happened.”
Zyon had recently finished his back-to-school shopping before starting the fourth grade, his grandmother said, describing him as kind and helpful. She also said he loved playing football and would have started his first game as quarterback on Monday.
“You took something that was very dear to me and my family, and you injured another one of my grandkids. You are heartless. Youre a coward,” Person said of the gunman.
Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis, Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead, Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry and U.S. Attorney Matt Martin all expressed outrage over Zyons death and said their efforts would be “laser-focused” on battling gun violence and gun crimes.
For example, a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent is now embedded with the Durham Police Department, using technology that scans shell casings found at crime scenes for comparison with a national database to link up various crimes and help bring shooters to justice, Martin said.
Martin also said the U.S. Department of Justice will look at trying more of Durhams firearms cases in federal court, where sentences for such crimes are stiffer.
No one has been charged in Zyons death, but Davis has said there are “indications” the shooting was gang-related. The police department is focusing more resources on gangs, she said.
“There are individuals that continue to wreak havoc on our community. I know some of them by their first name,” she said of repeat offenders, many of whom are gang members.
Davis also noted that more than 200 guns have been reported stolen in Durham since the beginning of the year, and her officers recovered 30 stolen firearms during arrests in the past month. She urged gun owners to secure their firearms so that they dont fall into the wrong hands.
For her part, Person said she plans to lobby state lawmakers to enact tougher penalties for people who shoot youngsters – an effort she called Zyons Law.
“Zyon, we all love you. We all miss you so much,” she said. “Your name, honey, is not going to go down in vain. Grandmas going to fight for you, for your name to stay alive.”