Carla Sheffield remembers the day 10 years ago when she learned her son had been fatally shot by a Boston police officer after a routine traffic stop in the South End.
It was a Tuesday and she was at work. “I got a phone call stating that something had happened to . . . my son. We were to go to Boston Medical Center.”
Her son, Burrell Ramsey-White, was dead. Her grief later worsened when she realized there were few people or institutions to support her.
“There were no resources whatsoever for me or my family to navigate this journey,” she said, speaking into a camera. “I felt like I was a criminal, the way they were treating me.”
Sheffield is one of several Boston parents who recount their sons’ deaths to gun violence in “Quiet Rooms,” a short documentary film that explores the culture and impact of gun violence through the experience of Boston families.
The film was created as part of “Transforming Narratives of Gun Violence,” a joint initiative by Emerson College, the MGH Center for Gun Violence Prevention, and the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute of Boston.
Several dozen people attended a recent screening at Massachusetts General Hospital. A panel discussion with families, filmmakers, and antiviolence advocates followed.
“We wanted to change the narrative [of gun violence], to teach new stories in media and in journalism,” said Dr. Chana Sacks, codirector of the MGH center, speaking to the audience after the screening. “We didn’t know how to do that, but we have the amazing chance to be in this city, with Emerson College . . . just a mile away.”
The film takes its title from the space where doctors meet parents at a hospital to tell them their child has died, often from gun violence.
“It’s a horrible place to be, to give the news, after you’ve worked on a child for half an hour, an hour, that doesn’t survive a gunshot,” Dr. Peter Masiakos, also a codirector of the MGH center, says in the film’s opening.
“There’s a very specific sound that a mother makes when you tell her, her child is dead,” Dr. Cornelia Griggs, a pediatric surgeon, adds. “And that sound sticks with you forever.”
The 20-minute film puts the spotlight on gun violence that occurs even in places with strict gun laws.
“We hear time and time again that Boston is the safest city, in the safest state, when it comes to gun violence,” Sacks said of the film. “But the young people in our city are telling us that they dodge bullets constantly. They are affected every single day by this problem.”
That grim reality has been again brought into focus in recent weeks. On Sunday, Quaaneiruh Goodwyn, 24, the mother of a 5-month-old boy, was killed in a triple shooting on Geneva Avenue in Dorchester. The week prior, 14-year-old Rasante Osorio of Dorchester was killed in a double shooting that also injured another teen in Roxbury. Osario was the third juvenile murdered in Boston this year, the Globe reported.
In “Quiet Rooms,” parents said they have faced a lonely journey grieving children lost to gun violence.
Sheffield recalls being told she would not receive assistance usually given to victims’ families because police alleged “your son contributed to his death, his murder.”
They have found hope and strength in each other, often attending support groups sponsored by the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute and Legacy Lives On, which are featured in the film.
Sharing her son’s story on film was cathartic, Sheffield said.
“In order for me to tell my son’s story, I had to learn how to tell it right,” she said during the panel discussion. “Not so much anger, more with passion. I needed a little creativity.”
Clementina Chéry, a cofounder of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute that is named for her son who died from gun violence, said she hopes the film leads to more support and services for parents who find themselves coming out of “quiet rooms.”
“My hope is that we become the model for other cities and other states dealing with the issue of gun violence,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to give families that dreaded news.”
Camilo Fonseca can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @fonseca_esq.