Dylan Park-Pettiford woke up one morning to more than a dozen missed phone calls and text messages from his mother. It was November 2012, and Park-Pettiford’s younger brother, Rory, 22, had been fatally shot outside a 7-Eleven convenience store in San Jose, California.
“I was flying home to spend the holidays with my family,” said Park-Pettiford, who at the time lived in Hawaii. “But instead it turned to me flying home to get my brother’s body from the morgue.”
Park-Pettiford described his family’s ordeal in an interview with NBC Bay Area and NBC4 News Southern California – two of more than a dozen NBC stations that partnered with The Trace to untangle the role gun theft plays in fueling violent crime.
In a yearlong investigation, The Trace and NBC linked more than 23,000 guns stolen from legal owners to firearms recovered by police.
In interviews, people shot with stolen guns described physical and emotional scars, from injuries that may never heal to newfound fears of undertaking tasks as mundane as walking to the store or being in large groups of people. Their stories point to the harm that can befall families, communities, and individuals as hundreds of thousands of stolen guns pour into underground markets and supply criminals with a steady source of deadly weaponry.
Park-Pettiford’s brother Rory was shot in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven after buying cigarettes and energy drinks. He had just turned 23, had started a new career, and was excited about his new girlfriend.
Park-Pettiford, now 32, described sitting in the courtroom as prosecutors played the surveillance footage that captured his brother’s murder. He watched as the gunman walked up to Rory’s car and opened fire with a Glock pistol that had been stolen hundreds of miles away in Riverside County.
“He killed my brother for no reason,” Park-Pettiford said. “And that’s something I think about every day.”
Park-Pettiford said the killing of his brother “destroyed” his family. He believes the shooting contributed to his parents’ divorce after a 40-year-long marriage. He can’t celebrate his own birthday or enjoy Thanksgiving because it reminds him of burying his brother.
In Atlanta, Jasmine Hollie told WXIA-TV that she thought about how her boyfriend, Domica Garrett, won’t get a chance to see their daughter grow up. Garrett was fatally shot with an AK-47-style rifle at an apartment complex in 2016 after an altercation that began when he made fun of someone’s hair. The gun used in the killing was stolen from a house after its owner left the rifle underneath a mattress.
“I know he would love to be here to see her grow,” said Hollie, while her 3-year-old daughter, Bambi’Tadae Hollie, played with a stuffed yellow Minion from the ‘Despicable Me’ movies. “All of it could have been avoided if that gun wasn’t on the street.”
Emmett Reid can press down on the scar near his belly button and feel his hip. He was 21 years old in 2015, when he was shot with a stolen Taurus pistol while trying to sell marijuana in Tallahassee, Florida. After the shooting, Reid said in an interview with The Trace, he was scared to return home for fear that the gunman might try to find him. The bullet passed through his intestines. Reid said he is now prone to hernias and has been experiencing other stomach ailments.
Reid said he has thought about visiting the gunman in prison. “I’d really like him to explain his thinking,” Reid said. “Maybe I’d understand why he was able to do that — and why he wanted to kill me.”
In Colorado, Aysia Quinn was paralyzed from the waist down and lost a kidney after she was struck by errant rounds from a stolen Smith & Wesson pistol in September 2015. The gun was snatched from a closet in a home a short drive away in Douglas County, Colorado.
Quinn, now 19, told 9News in Denver that she still has shards from one of the bullets in her back. She has regained some feeling in her legs and is upbeat about the prospect of walking again. But she misses playing basketball and dancing, gets anxiety attacks in large groups of people, and shudders at anything that goes pop.
“I cry a lot, you know?” Quinn said. “Cause it is depressing. This one moment you have legs and you can walk, and the next moment you wake up and you’re paralyzed.”
Renay Brown can vividly recall the night when her nephew, Bobby, 34, was killed in the same shooting that injured Quinn. She had spoken to him earlier that day. After hanging up, she ate a dinner of steak and potatoes and dozed off with a blanket in front of the TV. She woke up to her phone ringing. On the other end was her niece’s mother. Bobby’s been shot, the voice said.
After the shooting, Brown made T-shirts with a photo of her and Bobby on the front. She ordered a special pair of blue sneakers with “BOB” stitched in orange on the heel. She chose the colors because Bobby was an avid Denver Broncos fan.
On the first anniversary of his death, Brown and several friends and family members assembled outside her home and released blue and orange balloons into the sky.