‘Put the Guns Down’ | Sojourners


The picture shows a sculpture of a kneeling person over a body, with photos in the back of people who died of gun violence.

In March, "Thou Shalt Not Kill," a life-sized sculpture donated by Canadian artist Timothy P. Schmalz, was installed outside of St. Sabrina Catholic Church in Chicago in partnership with Purpose Over Pain. / Anthony Vasquez / Chicago Sun-Times

‘Put the Guns Down’

My son was shot and killed in 2017. Five years later, the same thing happened to my husband.
By Sharon Purnell

I ONLY HAD one child. His name was Damien Purnell. He was 31 years old. In 2017, January 13, I got the worst call of my life. I was at work, and I found out my son got shot five times at my house. I hibernated for five years. And when I say hibernated, I really did. I only went to work and that was it. I was hurting so much inside. It was a pain that was unbearable. My husband was my support system. We cried with each other. I was never mad at God. I finally started getting up and getting out.

My husband [Larry Purnell] had a lawn service business. Two years ago, on May 7, 2022, he went to do a client’s yard, and he got shot. Christ [Medical Center] is a trauma hospital in Chicago, that’s where my son went. When they said my husband was going, I said, “I know this is not going to be a repeat of what I just went through 5 years ago.” My husband died as well. For someone to murder someone, it’s like a domino effect. It does not only affect you, it affects everybody else in your family.

One of the commandments is “Thou shall not kill,” [another is] “Thou shall not steal.” When people murder folks, they’re stealing from your family, and they’re killing. So this sculpture captures everything that really needs to be heard out here in this world today. Jesus is weeping, he’s crying to tell people he came here for love. You’re supposed to be loving on each other. But how can we do that if there’s so much anger in the world, so much hatred in the world? Jesus is out there weeping. He’s weeping hard. Telling them “Put the guns down.”

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Sharon Purnell is the project coordinator for Purpose Over Pain, a crisis support group for parents who have lost children to gun violence.