Mom of Unsolved Murder Victim Will Wear Orange this Weekend to 'Prevent the Next Senseless Gun Death'

Valerie Burgest is taking part in the Wear Orange campaign this weekend, calling for an end to America's gun violence epidemic

Craig Williams and his mom Valerie Burgest
Photo: Valerie Burgest

On the heels of three high-profile mass shootings in the United States in a span of less than three weeks, Friday marks National Gun Violence Awareness Day. It's also the kick-off to the eighth annual Wear Orange campaign weekend — a weekend where people wear the color to honor victims of gunfire and to push for gun violence prevention.

Taking part in the nationwide movement is Chicago mom Valerie Burgest, 60, who tells PEOPLE she knows all too well the pain and suffering of losing a loved one to America's gun violence epidemic.

In 2013, when he was just 23, her only son, Craig Williams, was shot to death just three days after Christmas.

"I had no idea that that was going to be the last Christmas that I would spend with my son," Burgest says.

Williams was killed when he stopped by a convenience store. Eight years later, the motive and the assailant behind his murder remain unknown.

When he was killed, Williams left behind two kids — a son and a daughter — both under the age of 2.

Too young at the time to have memories of their own father, Burgest says now all 9-year-old Craig Jr. and 10-year-old Kylie are left with are unanswered questions about why their dad was taken from them before they had the chance to know him.

"He didn't die from a car accident. He didn't die from an illness. His life was stolen by somebody who had a gun who probably shouldn't have had a gun. My son died because of senseless gun violence," Burgest says.

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The trauma of losing her only son, who she says had set a goal to get a college degree, compelled Burgest to channel her grief into action. She joined Moms Demand Action, founded after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, and the Everytown Survivor Network, a group of people whose lives have been upended by gun violence. She hopes to bring about changes to gun laws, and in so doing, to "elevate Craig's life."

"It is another opportunity for me to be able to advocate for gun violence prevention, for legislation that hopefully will slow down the number of people killed every day in this country," she says. "We are not anti-gun. We are anti-gun violence."

"And I would like for people to understand that we're not trying to take your guns away from you. We're not trying to trample on your Second Amendment rights. We are trying to prevent senseless tragedies from occurring every day."

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention nonprofit founded after the Sandy Hook shooting, more than 110 people in America are killed with guns, daily.

The New England Journal of Medicine found that in 2020, guns were the leading cause of death for people under the age of 19, in the United States, outpacing car crashes. Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that same year, 45,222 gun-related deaths occurred in the U.S., "a new peak," the report read.

Now, Burgest will spend her weekend wearing orange, which was chosen for the campaign because it's the color worn by hunters in the woods to protect themselves and others from gunfire. Even after the weekend is over, Burgest will spend the rest of her life fighting for changes to America's gun laws.

"If we did not have senseless gun violence taking place every single day in many of the communities across this country, my son would still be here and I wouldn't have to explain to his children why your father is not here," she says. "I wouldn't have to live with the pain of his death every day, that's never going to go away. And so, I do what I can. I advocate for policies and legislation that will hopefully prevent the next senseless gun death."

She adds, "I will never heal from the death of my son."

Valerie Burgest is a Volunteer with the Chicago Chapter of Moms Demand Action and a Senior Fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network. Her son, Craig Williams, was killed in an unsolved shooting in Chicago. If you or someone you know has information about this case, please contact the Chicago Police Department, 2nd Division at 773-747-8380.

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