SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - An Atlanta dad and a Savannah alderman are on the same mission targeting gun violence and accidental shootings without even knowing it.
Byron McDowell's 14-year-old son, Jajuan, was killed in an accidental shooting with a stolen gun one year ago. Jajuan's mom and dad are standing together hoping their tragic story saves lives by showing the dangers of playing with guns.
It was April 7, 2016. It doesn't seem like a year ago to Byron McDowell. It feels more recent, and a lot like a bad dream.
"Hearing my wife yell, 'hey, our baby been shot!' It's like oh my. Because you never would've imagined it. He wasn't into that lifestyle so it's like, no way. It's got to be a dream," said McDowell.
It wasn't though. Their 14-year-old son Jajuan was shot to death while in Savannah for his spring break. It wasn't in a malicious act. Instead, it was after his cousin mishandled a stolen gun.
"It's getting out of control. We got to step up and we got to say something. Me as a parent, I'm hoping that people that hear my story understand this is real," said McDowell.
The numbers in Savannah will show you it's a real problem too.
Last year, the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department recovered almost 1,100 guns. Of those, 717 of them were for evidence, 51 were stolen and recovered, and 130 found.
This year, state leaders struck down a measure that would allow police departments to destroy stolen guns that go unclaimed instead of selling them back to gun shops. Their reason: It denies access to affordable guns for people. Alderman Van Johnson called the bill's collapse a big fail.
"That's asinine thinking. Certainly want to thank Senator Jackson for bringing it up on the senate. It's just disappointing that they allowed it to die there," said 1st District Alderman Van Johnson.
Johnson's working with a local non-profit targeting teens with stolen guns. They pay them, no questions asked, to turn those guns in to be destroyed. Police departments can't do that by state law.
"When something happens, we're very upset. Everyone is mad, upset, what can we do about this? Something needs to change," said Johnson.
For McDowell, that change is in the hearts of the very teens with those guns.
"Think about the consequences of playing with a firearm. Or if you're upset with someone, trying to take a life is hurtful," said McDowell.
He hopes his family's tragedy sparks that change. McDowell said fighting to honor his son by raising awareness to the dangers of playing with guns is his way of healing.
His wife is in D.C. as part of the "Moms Demand Action Campaign" against gun violence. In two weeks, Jajuan's family is planning to hold a Fun Run and 5K in his memory.
Saturday, April 22, the race kicks off at 8:30 a.m. at Savannah State University. Proceeds will be divided between the "Be Smart Campaign for Gun Safety" and the "Educationally Speaking Center for Learning."
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