Parents keep a promise by attending gun buyback

Mother, father of victim in Colo. school shootings speak at event in Georgia

May 30, 1999|By COX NEWS SERVICE

ATLANTA -- The reason the parents of one of the victims of the Columbine High School massacre were in Atlanta yesterday seemed obvious: Attending a gun buyback, they represented the families of the slain students.

But their reason went deeper. Vonda Shoels, mother of Isaiah Shoels, said that by making the trip at the request of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, she and her husband, Michael, were keeping a promise they had made to their son before his death last month at the Colorado high school.

"Isaiah asked his father and I what would we do if someone got a gun and killed all our kids," Vonda Shoels told about 75 people at the National Football League's Youth Education Town Atlanta. "We asked him if he was being threatened. He said no. We told him vengeance is the Lord's, but we would speak out."

"As a father, I got forceful, and he told me it was just hypothetical. I told him whatever foul play took you out, I'll preach against that the rest of my life," said Michael Shoels.

He added: "Our children are dying for no reason at all."

Also present were Roger and Yvonne Thomas, the parents of 13-year-old Geno Thomas, who was gunned down April 22 near Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, which is next to the NFL center.

They were joined by Martin Luther King III of the SCLC and Brenda Muhammad, director of the Victim Witness Program.

The SCLC's buyback was organized in part as a response to the violence two weeks ago at Heritage High School in Conyers, Ga., where a student despondent over a breakup with his girlfriend wounded six other students.

"This is not the solution but a step we are taking in our community," said King.

Men and women brought guns in brown bags, briefcases, pocketbooks and shoe boxes. They stood in a line that at one point numbered 50 people, waiting to exchange the guns for vouchers good for a $50 payment. The guns collected will be destroyed, SCLC officials said.

Robert Colbert was one of the first people in line. He said he wanted to get rid of his gun because he has a 17-year-old at home.

"I don't think he would use it, but I want to keep the temptation away and have it destroyed," Colbert said.

Ralph Ooten, 15, a middle school pupil, accompanied his godmother, Mary Jenkins, as she turned in a pistol she had hidden from her brother two years ago. The teen said he supports the program because he believes the fewer guns there are on the streets, the better the chance he will be around to realize his goal of becoming a lawyer.

The periodic gun buybacks started in 1993 and have been held "off and on" since then, said the Rev. E. Randel Osburn, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the SCLC. Osburn said the SCLC has paid out $480,000 through the years to collect 10,000 guns -- 3,000 in Atlanta alone.

Pub Date: 5/30/99

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