On September 15, 1999, about 100 teenagers were at a celebration at the Wedgwood Baptist Church in southwest Ft. Worth, Texas, when gunman Larry Gene Ashbrook entered and started firing a high-caliber semiautomatic handgun into the sanctuary. Eight people were killed, including the gunman, who shot himself in the head. Among the dead was Justin Ray, the only child of Judy Stegner. On Mother's Day, she will be a speaker at the Million Mom March satellite rally in Ft. Worth. Stegner told Beliefnet why she's participating in the march.

My son is Justin Ray. He was 17. He was videotaping the rally at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth the night of the shootings. He had been there all afternoon, setting up the sound boards and getting the band's equipment wired to play that night. It was a Christian band--40 Days. One of his teachers said to him, "Go home, you've got the night off." But Justin brought back food for the other guys and said, "I'll stay--what do you want me to do?" He offered to videotape the band--he thought the man who was going to do it would rather be doing something else with adults. Justin was 6'1" and could see over the kids and get a good view. He still had the camera when they found him.

We're actually Methodists, not Baptists. Westcliff Methodist is our home church, but a lot of Justin's friends go to Wedgwood Baptist. He had been visiting Wedgwood for about a year and went on their youth trip. He loved church, church was fun again, and he loved being with his friends. He asked me, "Mom, what would you think if I became a Baptist?" I said, "If I can trust you to drive a vehicle, I guess I can trust you to choose your own church." He probably would have joined. People ask if I'm angry at the church, and I say they did nothing wrong. All they did was open their doors to the kids.

Living in Texas, I grew up around guns and I have relatives who hunt. Justin was in Boy Scouts and earned all his shooting merit badges. He knew that you need to be responsible and you need to be trained. I've taught on the BB range at Cub Scout camp, and I've taken all the safety courses. I have no problem with hunters--it's the handguns and automatic weapons that are out there. Gun violence is way out of control in this country. It's so easy for anyone--kids, the mentally ill--to get one. In Texas there's no age requirement. For honest, law-abiding people, a few days' waiting period won't make a difference. You have to have a license to drive a car or get married, but any 18-year-old can go to a guy in the back of a pickup and buy a gun.

To me, Columbine was the big wake-up call. After that I was worried about Justin going to school, even though he was at a small alternative school run by the Catholic diocese. He would tell me, "Mom, don't worry--no one can get past that door. They know everyone who comes in." You worry about your kids when they drive, and now you worry about them at school. But nobody ever dreamed you would have to worry about your kids in church. Church was the last safe haven.

When they asked me to speak at the Million Mom March in Ft. Worth, I hadn't even heard of it. I thought, dang, that's a great idea. I'll be speaking with other moms who've lost their kids to gun violence. In an election year, we're hearing that women's votes count and that moms have a lot of power. I've always tried to be real involved, in Cub Scouts, PTA, and community activities. This is a way to do something for Justin, to make something positive come out of this. If even one person listens and changes his mind, maybe another family won't have to go through what we're going through.

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