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Mothers of young homicide victims bring poignant message to students in Buffalo

Two murders just a day apart.

Two families’ lives changed forever.

Mothers Maura Evans and Deborah Daniels both lost their sons in a spate of shootings in the summer of 2008, and they want to prevent other young people from meeting the same fate as their children. The two mothers spent the morning Wednesday, along with several others, talking with students at Buffalo’s Math, Science, Technology Preparatory School about the indelible mark that violence leaves on families and communities.

“It’s such a devastating thing when the police come to your door,” Daniels recounted to the group of teenagers. “When people murder someone, you don’t only take away their life. Our lives will never be the same again.”

The discussion was part of the larger S.E.N.S.E.S. Foundation program that aims to encourage and support young people in making good life choices. That includes staying engaged at school, not on the streets.

“They’re talking to you in the hopes that you don’t end up like their kids – dead on the streets,” said the Rev. Gene Coplin, who organized the discussion.

Organizers hope that such efforts will deter young people from getting involved in the criminal activity that spreads across the city and touches many others, setting them on a path that often leads to dropping out of school, becoming incarcerated or worse.

“I’m tired of seeing so many people coming to jail,” said Coplin, whose background is working in the prison system. “Especially young black men.”

Catching young people while they are still in school could be the solution, with research consistently reinforcing a connection between academic outcomes and both incarceration and murder rates.

For example, there is nearly a 70 percent chance that an African-American man without a high school diploma will be imprisoned by his mid-30s.

Students who are not successful in school often look for an outlet on the streets, turning to crime and violence that affect not only them, but those around them.

“It’s a war right here,” Evans said of the crime she sees in her community.

Evans recounted to the students how it felt to lose her son, Matthew Elliott, who was 16 when he was struck by a stray bullet.

“He didn’t get a chance to graduate, he didn’t get to go to prom,” she said. “I had to pack his room up after.”

She went through the room, sorting all of the clothes, posters and sports mementos, the collection of a young man hoping to find his way to adulthood.

All of his possessions fit in just two gray boxes.

The experience of putting away all of her son’s belongings was so emotional that she wrote a poem about it.

She shared it with the students, offering a window into the pain of a mother touched by violence.

“Only 16 years I was given,” she recited to the group. “So I’m living my life to see you in heaven.”