Mothers of Kansas City murder victims take charge against violence

Rosilyn Temple found herself in a place she never imagined she would be.

Standing cold and alone behind yellow crime scene tape, she watched officers hardened by the monotony of violent death gather evidence at the scene of another dead body — her son’s.

“I used to see other mothers on the news and feel so sorry for them,” she said. “Then death knocked on my door.”

On Thursday night Temple returned to that place of pain outside the central Kansas City apartment complex where her son Antonio “Pee Wee” Thompson was killed in 2011. But this time she was not alone.

She was joined by a group of other Kansas City women who know the grief of losing a child to murder.

They call themselves Mothers in Charge and they share a passion to prevent other families from experiencing the life-long trauma that senseless violence imparts on the families left behind.

“This is something we need to do in our community,” said Cheryl Lumpkins, whose son Rickey King Jr. was shot to death in November 2011. “A lot of people just give up.”

There are now 13 mothers and grandmothers who are sharing their stories and perspective as part of Mothers in Charge, which was started in Kansas City by the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime.

They are working closely with the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, a coalition of law enforcement, community and faith-based organizations that is identifying and targeting the city’s most persistent violent criminals and their associates for severe prosecution while offering social service help for those seeking to escape the criminal lifestyle.

During recent meetings, or “call-ins,” with some of the people identified by KC NoVA, Temple and other mothers encouraged them to think of their own mothers before choosing a path that could lead them to prison or an early death.

“They have been the most powerful speakers at the call-ins,” said Kansas City Police Capt. Joe McHale, project manager of KC NoVa. “Mothers can get through to them in a way that a cop or anybody else couldn’t.”

At one session a young man who sauntered in with an obvious attitude of indifference ended up in tears and hugging one of the mothers after the session, McHale said.

“They will be a voice at every call-in we ever have,” he said.

After speaking at one of the sessions, Twyla Fauntleroy said she was approached by a man who thanked her for what she said. He was holding his own young son and Fauntleroy told him he needed to set a positive example for his child.

“Little eyes are watching you,” she told him. “The path you choose will effect the future of your loved ones.”

Fauntleroy, whose son Brandon Fauntleroy-McDowel was shot to death during a carjacking in 2008, said young people at risk of turning to crime and violence need to know that people in the community care about what happens to them.

She called KC NoVa a “beautiful thing” for offering them support and social service help.

“We’ve got to get our babies back on track,” she said.

For Dewanna O’Guinn, getting involved in Mothers in Charge and speaking out was a “no brainer.”

“Silence is not an option,” she said.

Her son, Ashton O’Guinn, was killed in April 2012, and she said helping families deal with the aftermath of murder is another mission of Mothers in Charge. Emotionally drained and physically exhausted, they find themselves having to make “executive decisions” about funeral arrangements and other pressing matters, she said.

“It can be overwhelming,” she said. “I was lost.”

As part of that effort, Temple went to the scene of a recent homicide to assist that family and explain to them how police need to conduct their investigations. Family members, overcome with emotion, often lash out at officers for keeping them behind the crime scene tape. Temple knows that feeling all too well.

“You want to see your child,” she said. “You want to hold your child.”

But detectives need to do their jobs, and victims need to understand that police want to see the cases solved as much as they do, Temple said.

“They don’t become homicide detectives because they want to go out and look at dead bodies,” she said.

While Kansas City’s Mothers in Charge group has only been in existence for a few months, the original Mothers in Charge movement was started in Philadelphia in 2003. Its founder, Dorothy Johnson-Speight, came to Kansas City to encourage and offer advice to the local group, and Temple recently traveled to Philadelphia for a “stop the violence” conference.

Johnson-Speight started the group as a way to channel her anger and despondency after her son was murdered.

“It’s the worst pain you can imagine,” she said. “You feel like you could just lay down and die.”

Besides Kansas City, the group has expanded to several other cities, said Johnson-Speight.

“Sometimes mothers can get things done when others can’t,” she said.

Meeting Johnson-Speight and hearing her message about mothers standing together to stop the violence in Philadelphia motivated Sonya Cherry to get involved with Mothers in Charge. Cherry, whose son Samir Clark was killed in 2011, said the entire community needs to embrace the idea that “enough is enough” when it comes to accepting violence.

“We have to bring this to the forefront of the community,” she said. “Too many young people are dying senselessly.”

Temple, who is president of Kansas City Mothers in Charge, and many of the other group members are also motivated by the desire to find the killers of their children.

Thursday’s vigil to draw attention to the unsolved killing of her son was the first of several planned to run during May and June to highlight other unsolved killings.

Standing in front of the building where her son died, Temple and the other Mothers in Charge vowed that they will make a difference in Kansas City.

“We don’t want any more of our children to go away in violence like this,” Cherry said.