Aretha Maugé tries to tell her 10-year-old daughter, Toni, that her older brother is in heaven, but it’s hard for the girl to understand.
Christopher Jordan, 19, thanks God every day. He has already lived longer than two of his cousins - Cedirick Steele, 18, a Meals on Wheels employee, and Jaewon Martin, 14, a student at the James P. Timilty Middle School in Roxbury - who were gunned down in 2007 and 2010, respectively, for being in gang territory.
And Alice Crump, 50, sobs when she remembers her son, Kenny Murray, 21, who was shot to death on a summer day in 2006.
“There’s not a day I don’t think about him,’’ Crump said. “There’s a lot of tears going around. That’s all you can do, is cry.’’
Connected through loss and brought together by hope, they were among hundreds who marched through Dorchester on Sunday for the annual Mother’s Day Walk for Peace, to defy, if only for a few hours, the street violence that took their loved ones and shattered their lives.
“As we’re here this morning, it’s bittersweet,’’ said Tina Chéry, head of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute and founder of the walk. “It is not acceptable for someone to take another mother’s child. Let us remember . . . 365 days of the year, that peace is possible.’’
Now in its 16th year, the annual walk has become a touchstone for parents of victims of violence, many of whom turned out in force to proudly display T-shirts and signs bearing the faces of the children they lost.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino spoke of the need to take care of the city’s youths, whether they were victims or perpetrators.
“There are no bad kids out there, only misguided kids,’’ Menino said to cheers from the crowd that gathered at Town Field on Dorchester Avenue, which was also the start and end of the 3.6-mile route. “We have to bring them back into the fold.’’
It was a statement that rang painfully true for Maugé, whose 16-year-old son, Devonte Maugé-Franklin, was stabbed to death as he rode an MBTA bus on New Year’s Eve in 2006.
The boy was troubled about his father, who left the family and married another woman, Maugé said, and by constant bullying at his school.
The family separation led to bitter and emotional arguments, Maugé said.
The teenager loved studying whales and sea life, which was a constant source of torment from peers, who targeted him for being different.
When Maugé-Franklin was killed, he was wearing a Florida Marlins baseball hat - because he liked the image of the leaping fish - and not because it was symbolic of a nearby gang, she said.
“He told me the day that he died, he couldn’t take it anymore,’’ Maugé recalled.
“He said I couldn’t teach him, the streets were too tough. . . . [He couldn’t] do it no more, the extra buses, the long way home to avoid conflict. He gave up.’’
Hours later, the teenager was stabbed four times aboard a Route 28 bus on Blue Hill Avenue.
Maugé’s life practically stopped with her son’s, she said.
“As soon as the funeral was over, I shut down on everybody,’’ Maugé said. “I’m just now coming back into society.’’
She descended into an eight-month depression and stopped working and leaving the house. Only with years of counseling and then discussions with a support group, has she found the strength to rejoin her community and live outside the shadow of her son’s death.
But healing can take many forms.
After the killing of Rebecca Payne, the 22-year-old Northeastern University student found in May 2008 shot to death inside her Mission Hill apartment, the New Milford, Conn., native’s parent’s sought answers.
Last month, after four years, those answers finally came when authorities filed charges against two men connected to the shooting - Cornell Smith, 30, accused of pulling the trigger, and Michael Balba, 55, accused of lying to investigators about Payne’s death.
“It was mistaken identity,’’ said Virginia Payne. “[Her killer] went to apartment 23, instead of apartment 28.’’
The indictments, and the upcoming trial of Smith, who is serving 12 to 15 years in federal prison on an unrelated drug conviction, will be an opportunity for catharsis for the couple, who have campaigned against violence since their daughter’s death, Virginia Payne said.
Not knowing the identity of her daughter’s alleged killer was more difficult for the family, Virginia Payne said. “We didn’t know who he was, what he looked like. Now we have a name to put to a face.’’
She said Smith’s incarceration was a start to relieving the family’s anguish.
“I looked at the rap sheet of [Smith], and it’s a mile long,’’ she said. “I wish they would bring back the death penalty.’’