My son died from gun violence. His story matters.

After the loss of her son due to gun violence, a mother finds space for hope and healing at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago.
Peace & Justice

I never thought gun violence would directly impact my life. And I never thought I would lose my child to gun violence here in Chicago.

I was born in 1972 to a single mother and raised in Chicago along with my three siblings. Growing up in the projects, life was hard, but there were always adults around—on the playground, on field trips, or taking us camping—and they always made sure the kids were safe and in school. I remember being able to play outside during the day, and when the street lights came on, I knew it was time to go in the house. I can still hear my grandma call out, “OK! Come in now!”

Today, I am a single mom of seven children: five boys and two girls, who range in age from 23 to 33. They have grown up in a world that’s far different from the one I knew.

After I had my first daughter, I started to focus on being a mother. Living with my grandma, I learned to raise my kids on very little, and I learned how to survive. I did the best I could with what I had, and I think I did pretty well. The Department of Children and Family Services never got involved, and no matter what, we always stayed together. When my kids struggled, I was with them. When I struggled, they were with me.


I always tried to keep them safe, so I kept them inside the house as much as I could. But the older they got, the more interested they became in what was going on outside, online, and among their peers. They started to leave the safety of our home.

Before long, my boys found themselves in the juvenile justice system. Having children in and out of the system, frequently detained and locked up, takes a toll not just on parents but on siblings as well. At one point, I had four sons locked up at the same time. It was tough. I prayed so much: “Father God, help me!”

One of my sons, Demond L. Brown, was charged with an armed robbery with a weapon. At 17 years old, my son was sentenced as an adult to 18 years in prison and required to serve 50 percent of the sentence before being eligible for release. His dad died while he was in there, and throughout his time locked up, he suffered greatly. In his first year, he was placed in the adult prison system and was violated repeatedly. At one point, they put him in solitary confinement for more than six months. It took a real toll on him.

Throughout those eight and a half years while he was locked up, I was only able to see him once. Sister Donna Liette at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR), a restorative justice community center located in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, drove six hours with me to visit him. He was so happy to see me. His eyes filled with tears, and so did mine.


Having your loved ones away from you like that is hard. When they come home, you feel such relief and joy. You’re just hoping and praying for nothing but the best for the rest of their lives.

Demond was released on July 2, 2021. We drove to pick him up, and we were all so excited! I was so glad he had this second chance. I was proud of my son for going through what he did.

But when he got home, he wasn’t himself. He didn’t know how to deal with life; he went in as a teenager and came out as a man. He would often say, “You just don’t know what I went through in there.”

On November 17, 2021, my son was murdered due to gun violence; he was only 26 years old. Not even out of prison for five months—and then gone, just like that. To say my heart was broken to the core is an understatement.


When someone kills your child, you have to live with it for the rest of your life. There’s no justice, no fix. Losing my son to gun violence made me feel empty, helpless, and like nobody cares. To this day, nothing has been done about the murder of my child. It feels like he didn’t matter at all to society. When he was killed, I went to organizations that help victims, and they wouldn’t give us assistance because of his prison record. He had to sit in the morgue for a month while I sought support.

The gun violence in Chicago and beyond is so out of control that once someone gets killed, the world acts as if they have no importance: just another life lost. But this is not true. All children matter—and each individual was once a child; each person has people out there who love them. I’ll never condone wrong behavior, but no offense is so bad that it takes away the dignity of the person and the value of their life.

This level of loss and grief changes people. I see it in my kids daily. They carry so much anger in them, and they want to take it out somewhere, because no matter what, they still don’t have their brother.

For me, though, finding restorative justice has brought some peace. It’s taught me that everyone deserves a chance to be redeemed and to be seen in their dignity. I see the change it’s had in me. I’m not afraid to speak and to tell my story.


PBMR is a place of radical hospitality where youth and families impacted by violence and incarceration can find safe spaces for healing and hope in community. From mothers’ grief-healing circles to after-school programming for young people, PBMR practices relentless engagement and accompaniment to ensure that no one walks alone. 

I’ve found a home at PBMR in the mothers’ peace circle. We often say, “It’s therapy that you don’t have to pay for.” Here, I can be with other mothers who know this kind of pain. We can speak, hug, cry, and find the support we need. It’s a community of love and healing in the middle of this unimaginable loss. It’s all a lot of us have. Having someone say, “I hear you. I’m here for you”—sometimes that’s all you need. And our kids need that, too. That’s why we need more restorative justice hubs in this city. It would help make a difference.


My boys also got involved in the programs at PBMR. I have seen them flourish and grow there. It gives them a taste of the community that my generation had growing up. My boys haven’t been to jail in years, and they’re starting to heal and move forward. I see change. I feel it. I know it’s possible.

And yet we as parents still have to live with this unbearable hurt and trauma as long as we live. It’s not fair. When I think about all the lives lost to gun violence, it just makes my heart drop. Babies, children, young adults, elderly, and everyone else. When will it stop?


Gun laws need to be changed. There’s too much access to guns on these streets. The lives lost are too many, and it happens daily. I pray to God that gun laws change, that people will no longer have access to these guns, and that hearts will also change. That we all—as systems, communities, and individuals—stop being so vindictive, punitive, and quick to retaliate.

Losing my son to gun violence has been life-changing and heartbreaking; not knowing the who and the why wears on my mental state. I pray that one day all of us who never got closure will get the restorative justice and healing we all deserve.

And please—put the guns down! 

This article also appears in the June 2024 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 89, No. 6, pages 19-20). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Shutterstock/Thomas Egan Photography

About the author

Aldena Brown

Aldena Brown is a long-time member of the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation community. She is an active participant in the Family Forward Program, a trained circle keeper, and a strong advocate for the needs of youth and families in the community. She currently works at Giving Others Dreams and is in school for entrepreneurship to develop her own candle-making business.

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