Grandma Who Lost 2 Children to Gun Violence is Now an Advocate: 'My Kids' Deaths Were Necessary in Order to Bring About Change'
Most of us are aware of the gun violence crisis in the United States. We see it in the news, hear it on the radio, witness it in our streets, and read the statistics that continue to send permeating shockwaves throughout our society. But few of us ever imagine that we will become one of those startling statistics—that someone we love could be one of the more than 100 Americans who die each day at the hands of someone else who's accessed a gun.
On April 1, 2015, Crystal Turner became one of those people. Her reality came crashing down when she got a call at noon that day that her daughter, Jenea, and her son, Donell, had been shot by her own son-in-law, Roy—a heart-stopping moment in time that would forever change not only her future, but also her daughter's two children, Roy Jr. and Royce, who were 5 and 23 months at the time.
She was left asking that dreaded question that so many of us hope we never have to ask: Why me? Yet the answer has now become her life's mission. Her children's deaths, she says, were necessary in order to bring about the kind of change that could prevent someone else from losing their loved ones to gun violence. Her other life mission has been raising her daughter's two children.
Life Before the Tragedy
Before the incident, life was good for the Turner family. Her two middle children, Jenea and Donnell, were close, supportive, loving, and both on their way to success. Donell had just finished up his first year at OSU and Jenea owned five daycare centers after working in the business for eight years. Jenea's husband was successful in his career as a community youth advocate. "As a parent, I couldn't be more proud of the two, however, their marriage met some bumps in the road like some marriages do when life begins to change," she says. "After a couple years of counseling, they made the decision that they would no longer be together."
Turner never saw any signs of harm coming from her son-in-law. "We really thought things were great for them," she says. "They were doing shared parenting, had legally taken care of everything, and were just waiting on the final court date to have their marriage dissolved in a sense."
However, she now acknowledges that there's much she didn't realize about the connection between gun violence and intimate partner violence. The two are inextricably linked, with an average of 57 women being shot and killed every month by their intimate partner, per statistics from Everytown Research. "It's still very hard to believe and to accept that a young man that I had loved and still love since he was 15 years old would do something so heinous," she says. "My son-in-law wasn't a bad person until he took my daughter and my son's life."
Raising Her Grandchildren
Turner is now tasked with keeping her daughter's legacy alive in her children's minds even as they're being raised without her presence. Roy Jr. says he remembers the day his grandma took him into his bedroom to tell him that his dad had just shot and killed his mother and his uncle. "What I remember is how hard it was to tell a 5-year-old that the two people he loved weren't coming home that day," says Turner. "All of a sudden you become what we call 'grandfamilies'—grandparents who are raising grandchildren."
At 57 years old, Turner has had her share of challenges, and they continue to surmount daily as she works tirelessly to provide a wonderful life for her grandchildren amidst their parents' absence. One obstacle that reared its head in the very earliest of days was the stark similarity between her granddaughter and her daughter. "She is the spitting image of her mother at every age and it would be so hard to just simply hold her and look at her," Turner says. "And when she began to talk, 'cause she didn't start talking until probably about a month and a half after her mom had passed, every time she would call me 'mommy' it would just break my heart."
But she also acknowledges that there are some positives to her unique parenting situation. "Because I am parenting a second time around, I really get to correct some things I didn't know the first time around in parenting my children so I get to give them things I didn't get to give my children," she says. "Financially more stable with them than I was with my children and I'm now raising them with my husband where I was a single mom raising my kids."
Fighting for Change
In the wake of her childrens' passing, another mission that has become near and dear to Turner's heart is helping prevent these tragedies from happening to other people's loved ones. She is an advocate and volunteer for Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement of mothers fighting for safety measures that can protect civilians from gun violence. "My role is that of a survivor membership lead and what I do is I connect with a lot of survivors initially to support them in why our stories as survivors are important," she says. "It is stories from survivors that are at the heart of why all of us as volunteers fight and what we're fighting for is not having another family go through the experience that we've already gone through in either being a victim or being a victim's family of gun violence."
Topping the list of changes she would like to see is universal background checks—that every person who wants to buy a gun has a full background check. "In the situation of my daughter and my son, that universal background check would have allowed her to go into a court and say, 'We've had these altercations, there needs to be a background check done,'" she says. "It also supports the red flag law in being able to have a victim go in and speak with the law in their area to say, 'I know for a fact this person who once loved me has a gun and I don't know what they're going to do.'"
The other pertinent issue she is working on is the repeal of the Stand Your Ground law, which allows an individual to use deadly force on someone in public if they feel threatened in any way. "Living in Florida, the Stand Your Ground law is very active and pretty much states that if I feel threatened then I have the right to shoot someone," she says. "Does that mean that if I look at you wrong you get to take my life?"
Saving lives from gun violence continues to be Turner's mission and her way of keeping the memory of her son and daughter alive. "If that would save a life, then I feel like I'm accomplishing something," she says. "You just don't want to wake up every day and realize that someone you loved and cared about is not here because someone else made a choice to take their lives. You don't."