‘Say something.’ Lexington families of gun violence victims remember loved ones

Taylor Six/tsix@herald-leader.com

Kenya Ballard became involved in the “We are Survivors” gun violence prevention group in September 2016, when her sister-in-law, who was eight months pregnant, was shot in the back and killed.

Ballard’s unborn nephew, Jakobe, was also murdered that day.

Sunday afternoon, Ballard stood on the steps of the historic downtown Lexington Courthouse holding plaster molds of Jakobe’s feet while she spoke during the third annual “Walk a Mile in our Shoes” event — aimed at raising awareness against gun violence.

“When I say walk a mile in my shoes, this is literally all I have left,” she said among a crowd of other survivors and victims’ families. “This is all that he had. He never got the chance to wear a shoe.”

Three months after their murders, Ballard’s 2-year-old granddaughter, Nova, was shot in the head and killed during a home invasion. In September 2017, her 16-year-old son was killed on Chestnut Street.

She, along with other victims’ family members, placed pictures of their late loved ones on the steps of the courthouse, also with their shoes, as a way to remember those they had lost to gun violence.

“The people that are standing behind me — I wouldn’t trade these people for anything — I just wish I had met them in a different way,” she said. “I wish we weren’t standing here with our loved ones and their shoes standing beside pictures because that is all that we have left.”

She recalled the late Anita Franklin, an advocate against gun violence who pioneered the group and said: “If you see something, say something.”

“We need to get more people involved and raise awareness on gun violence because as much as I love these people standing here, I don’t want more shoes. I don’t want more pictures. I don’t want to get to the point where we are going to have to move to a bigger venue because we don’t have enough space,” she said.

Jackie Shannon, whose grandson Tyler Williams was murdered in July 2017, was also present on Sunday. His case has never been solved. Shannon stated as a town, and as individuals, they should not be known by the number of murders taking place.

“We should not have to come together or meet each other in the respect we have,” she said. “This has become like a sisterhood, and we need these fathers to come out also. Not just any father, but my son as well. They need to come and represent. Not yesterday, but today. Not tomorrow, today. Hopefully we don’t have to keep on doing this. But the murders keep going on.”

Just hours before the event on Sunday morning, another deadly shooting occurred in Lexington. It was the city’s 37th homicide, matching the record-breaking number for the city in 2021.

“As of today, we are at 37 homicides for the year which is what we were at the end of last year. Which means, unfortunately, we are going to have another record-breaking year when it comes to homicides,” Ballard said. “That is not a good feeling because that means I am going to have more people standing behind me.”

The mother of William Cole, who was shot and killed from gun violence in May 2017, said if people did try to walk a day in their shoes, that a lot of people would not make it.

“Everyday is different. What worked yesterday won’t work today,” she said. “Time doesn’t heal everything. The loss of a child, you can’t replace them, they don’t come back. Something needs to speak to these children who are killing one another. They need to have someone to bring some form of joy in their life.

“Someone to explain to them that life is beautiful and you need to wake up to see another day. People need to say something and stop protecting these murderers.”

Anita Franklin’s son, Ricardo, lost his brother Antonio Franklin Jr. in April 2014 through gun violence.

He said the event allowed others to see memories through shoes, pictures and other memorabilia families have from their loved ones.

“These are things our lost loved ones will never get to put on again,” Franklin said. “These are things that these mothers, fathers, family members and friends hold dear to them. They will never get to see them in those possessions ever again.”

He stated he, the families and community members and leaders were committed to helping stop gun violence in the city. He thanked the city, as well as the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office for their attendance, and commitment to the cause.

“It is not just those that are in positions who can do something about this, but all of us who are back here have the ability to do something, all of us standing out here have the ability to do something. It is not just one person,” he said. “It is a community effort.”