They’re moms who lost children to gun violence in North Texas, and are now taking action

A growing number of families in North Texas lose children to gun violence. Some mothers are harnessing their grief to build relationships with other survivors.

By Miranda Suarez, KERAMarch 22, 2023 10:48 am, ,

From KERA:

Erica Trevino has a million stories about her son Zechariah: the country boy, the jokester, the aspiring rapper, the sweetheart.

At 17 years old and nearly 6’3”, Zech was still scared of the dark, and of thunderstorms, Erica remembered. He loved food — one Thanksgiving, he stole the meatballs meant for dinner. He liked to go fishing, and to draw. A teacher at Paschal High School in Fort Worth had just given him a new sketching kit.

That sketching kit has returned unopened to his mother. Zechariah was shot and killed on Jan. 20, across the street from Paschal, outside the Whataburger where he worked.

“He was going to be a millionaire when he got that job at Whataburger,” Erica said. “Yeah, he was going to pay all our bills and we weren’t going to have to worry about nothing. That was Zech for you.”

Emily Nava / KERA News

In this photo from Christmas 2022, Zechariah Trevino is dressed up for an ugly Christmas sweater contest, his mother Erica said. He had a bad sinus infection but managed to smile anyway.

Zechariah’s death is part of a pattern in North Texas and across the country. Guns are the leading cause of death for children and teenagers in the U.S., and communities of color are often hit hardest.

And some mothers who’ve lost their children to gun violence in North Texas are working to make sure that others who’ve lost loved ones won’t grieve alone.

In some cases, other children are the ones pulling the trigger.

Police arrested two 17-year-olds and one 16-year-old in Zechariah’s shooting, which also injured his cousin. All three were charged with murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

This is not the first time Erica Trevino has lost a loved one to gun violence. Zechariah’s father, Jose Jauregui, died in a drive-by shooting when he was 17, Trevino said. She was pregnant with Zechariah at the time.

Zechariah’s girlfriend is pregnant now, too, Erica said.

“I told Zech, you got to make it past 17. That’s all you got to do,” she said. “But now I’m going to be telling his child that.”

Gun deaths in 2022

School shootings, like the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, have become more frequent. But most children who die from gun violence die outside the classroom.

Children die on the streets. They die in their homes from stray shots fired in drive-by shootings. Often their deaths attract little attention from the media, if any at all.

A KERA analysis of gun deaths in Dallas, Tarrant and Collin counties found that in the first six months of 2022, more than 400 adults and children died from firearm injuries, both homicides and suicides. The analysis is part of a KERA examination into the impact of gun violence locally.

In gun homicides, the vast majority of victims were Black or Hispanic.

In Tarrant County, those trends continued throughout the year. In 2022, 19 kids under the age of 18 died in gun homicides, county medical examiner data shows. Of the victims:

⋅ All but two were male.

⋅ Thirteen were Black.

⋅ Three were Hispanic.

⋅ Two were white.

⋅ One victim’s race was listed as “unknown.”

Fort Worth Polytechnic High School soccer player Higinio Edwin Flores, 15, was one of them. He was shot in his bed during a drive-by.

Crowley track star Rashard Guinyard, 17, was another. Guinyard was shot outside an after-prom party.

Mattie Kay Prescott, 15, died at the hands of her mother, who also shot and killed herself.

The youngest victim shot and killed in Tarrant County last year was Rayshard Scott, 5 years old. He was killed alongside his 17-year-old cousin, Jamarrien Monroe. Monroe’s infant son was also injured in the shooting.

Guns have been the leading cause of death among children and teenagers in both Tarrant and Dallas counties since 2017, according to CDC data.

As of 2020, that became true nationwide, too. That year, firearm-related injuries surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of death for children and teenagers across the country, according to an analysis of CDC data from the University of Michigan.

“The increasing firearm-related mortality reflects a longer-term trend and shows that we continue to fail to protect our youth from a preventable cause of death,” researchers wrote.

The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with a 35% increase in the firearm homicide rate nationwide, the highest recorded since 1994, according to the CDC.

“Young persons, males and black persons, ” according to the CDC, “consistently have the highest firearm homicide rates” and saw the biggest increases in 2020.The stresses of the pandemic may be partly to blame, the CDC says — like isolation, mental stress and interruptions to education.

In North Texas, 2023 began with more gun-related homicides. Three more teenagers were shot and killed in Tarrant County in January, including Zechariah Trevino.

Mothers reach out

Melinda Hamilton of Fort Worth lost her adult daughter and a grandson to gun violence. She’s among the mothers of gun violence victims who have turned their grief into action.

She founded Mothers of Murdered Angels, a nonprofit that helps families deal with the aftermath of a gun death.

The work is all-encompassing, Hamilton said.

“I had a heart attack in November. When I had that heart attack, they told me I need to slow down,” Hamilton said. “But how can you slow down when you’re trying to help others and make sure that they’re going to be okay?”

When families call, Mothers of Murdered Angels offers a little bit of everything. Hamilton can help with funerals, or connections to counseling services. She teaches people how to keep in touch with detectives and prosecutors, “to make sure it doesn’t turn into no cold case.”

“There is no book to tell you how to how to cope with this, what to do or anything else,” she said.

Hamilton’s goal for the next two years is to buy two acres of land for a memorial for gun violence victims. She wants the memorial to be a place of contemplation, like the cemetery where her grandson Derrick Johnson is buried.

“Every time we leave, Derrick would come out and show us that he’s there,” Hamilton said. “He’s not down in the ground, but his spirit is up here, and he’s around us every day, too. I feel like he’s still here.”

‘How can I be there for her?’

Rosalind Jackson never expected her son, Sa’Von Bell, to die to gun violence. He was shot and killed in Grand Prairie in 2018, at the age of 23. Like Zechariah Trevino’s suspected killers, the shooter was a teenager.

Sa’Von was the definition of a class clown, Jackson said. Funny, loveable, drove her and his teachers a little crazy. At Duncanville High School, he knew everybody.

“From the principal, the administrators, teachers, students, even the janitor, people in the cafeteria — if you went back and you spoke to all those people and you asked about him, I guarantee you they will say [he was] a very fine young man,” Jackson said.

Jackson is part of a community of mothers who have lost children to gun violence. She attended a homicide retreat through A Memory Grows, a Fort Worth nonprofit for parents who have lost children.

“Just to be able to talk to another mother who’s going through that, it’s like a relief,” she said. “You have your family, you have your friends and whomever, you have those support people, but they can’t relate.”

Jackson had never met Erica Trevino before, but someone passed along her number after Zechariah was killed, and Jackson reached out, to welcome her into the community.

“I wanted to be there for another mother. How can I be there for her?” Jackson said. “And lo and behold, how we connected! It was just awesome.”

Emily Nava / KERA News

Rosalind Jackson, the mother of Sa'Von Bell, and Erica Trevino, the mother of Zechariah Trevino, wear T-shirts memorializing their sons, who were killed with guns.

When Jackson and Trevino sat down together for an interview at the beginning of February, the two women had known each other for maybe 10 days.

It felt like longer, they said. Their sons had so much in common — a sense of humor, a love of family. And they had this loss in common, too.

She says people tried to help after Sa’Von was killed, but not everyone can relate.

“You have the funeral. People are calling you like crazy before and during the service, and after the funeral, the phone is dead. It’s silent,” Jackson said. “You have no one else calling you to check on you.”

That’s part of the reason Jackson started the BELL Foundation. The organization, named after her son, is still in early days — she had her first fundraiser in January — but she wants to help build a community of survivors.

Part of that is through phone calls like the one she made to Erica Trevino, which the BELL Foundation’s website dubs an “Angel Call”, or a hotline-style way for grieving parents to connect with others.

Emily Nava / KERA News

Rosalind Jackson never expected her son Sa'Von Bell to die due to gun violence, she said.

Jackson wants the BELL Foundation to be able to connect people with counseling services, too, she said.

“Even though it’s going on five years that we have lost Sa’Von, there’s still that memory that’s there,” Jackson said. “That pain is still there, but I’m able to smile, I’m able to laugh, I’m able to move forward. How can I share that with someone else?”

Jackson hopes to offer services to kids, too. She still wonders why the 17-year-old who shot her son was out that night.

“What I want to do is I want to be able to be there for another young person. I want to help them not go out here and pick up a gun and commit a senseless crime and take someone’s life,” she said.

Grief & moving forward

When Zechariah was younger, he’d come to his mother just wanting to be held. That’s what she misses most now, Erica Trevino said.

“He was a big teddy bear. He looked really intimidating, but he wasn’t. That was just him,” she laughed.

Trevino is helping Rosalind Jackson with the BELL Foundation now. They said they both plan to go to Austin in March for Survivors Speak, a day of advocacy for crime survivors at the Texas Capitol.

Cristian ArguetaSoto / Fort Worth Report

Zechariah Trevino’s grandmothers Rocio Cervantes and Maria Trevino grieve on Jan. 23 at the University United Methodist Church, near the Whataburger where Zechariah was killed. Hundreds came to a candlelight vigil to honor his life.

Trevino has grieved before: for Zechariah’s father, who died from a gunshot at 17. For Zechariah’s infant brother, who died from SIDS.

She plans to put her grief for Zechariah towards speaking out against gun violence, she said.

“Grief is a process, and it’s the final act of love,” Trevino said.

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation here. Your gift helps pay for everything you find on and KERA. Thanks for donating today.