In-depth: The weight of a bullet

After+Justice+Johnsons+death+in+2019%2C+the+KHS+community+continues+to+grapple+with+the+ongoing+issue+of+gun+violence.

Janine Gassel

After Justice Johnson’s death in 2019, the KHS community continues to grapple with the ongoing issue of gun violence.

Fifteen thousand meters per second: the speed a bullet takes to hit its target after being fired. This speed can be the deciding factor between life or death. The KHS community experienced this tragedy firsthand Jan. 14, 2019 with the loss of then senior Justice Johnson. Johnson’s life was taken by gun violence, which causes more than 500 lives lost everyday worldwide according to Amnesty.org

Romona Miller, KHS administrator and former grade level principal of the class of 2019, was one of many who were affected by Johnson’s death. Miller lost more than just one of her students; she lost a close friend.

“Prior to the loss of Justice, his father and I had been friends for years, so there was an especially personal aspect to his passing,” Miller said. “There was so much grief and confusion as to why this act of senseless violence was forced onto Justice, in addition to the support that was necessary to give to the students who were also mourning his loss.” 

If people could only see the impact that gun violence has on a person, let alone a family or a community, they would have the ability to feel the severity of the consequences.”

— Romona Miller

She said while gun violence doesn’t have one clear solution, gaining a sense of empathy and spreading awareness on the topic is the place to start. She said a flaw within the mindset of many gun owners is the lack of control around their reactive behavior with the weapon. 

“If people could only see the impact that gun violence has on a person, let alone a family or a community, they would have the ability to feel the severity of the consequences,” Miller said. “To give perspective on a situation like this I always ask people: ‘Would you want this to be you? Would you want this to be your mother? Or father? Or sister? And so on.” 

Miller gained perspective on the importance of gun safety by working with students who are affected by gun violence in the Kirkwood area. She said she learned to respect a weapon throughout her own childhood.

“Growing up, my father was a very responsible gun owner in the sense that he made sure my family and I knew there was a weapon in the house, and he taught us how to use it,” Miller said. “I can always remember he told us that anytime that you pulled out a gun, it meant that you had an intent to kill.”

Miller believes gun violence stems first from societal issues. She said these concepts then funnel into the local level due to those ideals, which is how it can easily affect the youth of Kirkwood and the rest of the country. 

“It seems as though at this point in time, it is so commonplace for everyone to have a firearm, but there is a lack of respect for the weapon,” Miller said. “Owning a gun truly shouldn’t be taken for granted.” 

It seems as though at this point in time, it is so commonplace for everyone to have a firearm, but there is a lack of respect for the weapon.”

— Romona Miller

As a KHS social worker, Kim Grega helps students who experience loss due to gun violence. She said that while she assists students who have trauma that stem from many different areas, gun violence is one of the most difficult to work through.

“In my experience of supporting the students of KHS, gun violence related deaths are often especially hard to process, ” Grega said. “This is mainly due to the fact that many times the victim is young, which adds a lot of confusion to the already present grief.”

Grega said the unusual process that is typically forgotten about when a student is experiencing a loss due to gun violence. She said this factor generally prolongs the healing process for herself and the student alike.

“When dealing with gun violence related deaths, many people often don’t realize that there is an investigation that follows,” Grega said. “So in addition to the student experiencing sadness and loss, there is more complication with the grieving process when they have to deal with the legal aspect of it that can interrupt their healing.”

A parent of a KHS student said the direct impact of Johnson’s loss was incredibly impactful on herself and her family alike. She said she was shocked at how quickly such a severe situation can happen.

“My family and I were incredibly devastated,” the parent said. “The commonly used phrase, ‘You never think it will happen to you or someone you know until it does,’ describes that feeling well.”

You never think it will happen to you or someone you know until it does.”

— Parent of a KHS student

The KHS parent described the issues she faced as a mother after she had been so affected by gun violence. She said how her specific perspective added many other layers of grief and anxiety to the already present sadness she faced after losing Justice.

“Shortly after Justice’s life was taken, I was extremely hesitant to let my own son leave the house,” the parent said. “I didn’t want him to miss out on any of the fun he would experience growing up, but I struggled with this concept because I just wanted him to be safe.”