Annette Holt is a 20-year veteran of the Chicago fire department. Three years ago, she lost her 16-year-old son Blair to gun violence when he was shot and killed while riding home from school on a city bus. Since then, she and Blair’s father Ron, a Chicago police officer, have been working to protect children from violence in their community, founding an organization called Purpose over Pain, and speaking out on the subject across the country.

If anyone would have told me that I would be one of those parents who lost their child to gun violence, I would never have believed it. You see, my son Blair was the kind of child that every parent dreams of. He was very intelligent, handsome, loving, talented and very charismatic. He was supposed to be born on my birthday — May 27th, but he decided he wanted his own day, so he came on June 1st, 1990. They were going to induce my labor the next morning and he came early morning. I will never forget that day when I held him. It was love at first sight and it only grew stronger as time moved on.

My son was murdered right before Mothers Day, about the time of my birthday and his birthday. At his funeral I received a gift he was planning on giving me on Mother’s Day; a replica of my Chicago Fire Department Captains badge.

When I lost my son, I felt as if I lost everything of value in my life. I would have given anything for it to be me and not him. That night at the hospital I bargained with God to just let him live so I could take care of him and quit my job, a job I love. But my love for my son was so much greater than anything I ever knew in this life. I never knew such pain and agony when the doctor told me, “He didn’t make it.” I felt as if I would just drop dead and really I wanted to go with my son.

You see, I died that day also. The Annette I used to be I am no more. People really don’t know what losing a child does to you and especially in such a violent and unexpected way. It leaves you to just exist. I remember dropping off a healthy, happy teenager at school that morning, and by 4pm that day he started fighting for his life — and by 9pm I was told he had died.

There are days I really don’t remember, probably better for me not to. I don’t even know how to explain it, I just know when I finally left the house and I came home to an empty house the pain would be so new and raw. I thought I was dreaming and he would return home.

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I had to go back to work, because being home in silence was killing me slowly. I managed to hold it together at work so no one knew how I suffered internally, putting on a face of strength and leading my firefighters every day. But when I hit that door every morning I returned from work I could let it out and be a mother who was grieving for her son.

My support came from parents who were like me. I met Pamela Montgomery-Bosley who had lost her son a year before me, actually near my house. Her son was a gospel musician with a promising future and he was shot in front of the church as he got his music equipment out of the car. She came to a rally right after my son was murdered and we have been friends every since in the struggle of a lifetime. I attend a support group along with Pam, called Parents of Murdered Children and that’s where the rest of my support comes from. This group helps parents make some kind of sense out of the senseless. I also belong to St Sabina church and my faith along with my pastor Father Pfleger and church family have been such a large part in supporting me through this tragedy.

We knew that we had to do something to try to turn this youth violence around so we got together with other parents: Tom and Pam Bosley, Ron and myself, Denise Reed, Willie Williams Jr., Alice Norris and started a group called Purpose over Pain. All of the parents lost their children to gun violence and all were innocent victims.

We strive to one day end gun violence so other parents will never know this type of pain or join our club. We reach out to parents who have lost children to violence, offering support financially and emotionally. We also visit schools, parents groups, community events and let them know our experiences since the loss of our children and what gun violence does to those who are left behind. We have testified in Springfield, IL, Washington, DC at the National Press Club, and in front of City Council, trying to gain support and change the gun laws. Of course we have meet resistance in Springfield and Washington. I have come to realize that the lives of innocent children are not as valuable as the money that the gun manufactures make off their deaths. So we continue to support each other and fight to make a difference so that our children will not die in vain. We will keep fighting and never give up!