JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Wearing a purple shirt with his two late sons Christopher and Deon’s faces pictured on it, Leon Kirkland returned for the very first time to the spot they were killed exactly 10 years ago to the day.
But time didn’t make it any easier.
"I still cry myself to sleep. I sit beside the bed and cry myself to sleep,” he said through tears.
On September 26, 2002, 12-year-old Chris and 13-year-old Deon were gunned down alongside their aunt, Johnnie Gatlin. They had simply been driving home from football practice.
With a numbing pain still inside him 10 years later, Kirkland grapples with his grief.
"It's something that doesn't go away. It’s something that will never go away,” said Kirkland.
With that understanding, Kirkland gathered in solidarity Wednesday night with family, friends, and neighbors. The low glow of their candles symbolized lives lost too soon.
But on this same night, as balloons burst into the sky, there was also a hint of hope for a lesson learned in all of this violence.
"I'm sure I won't be the first one or the last one that you'll ever interview about losing a loved one, but maybe this thing can slow down. It's time for it to stop,” said Kirkland.
Latroy Bouknight, Carlton Lumpkins, and Maurice Silas were all sentenced to three life terms each for the murders.
As a result of this tragedy, the Jacksonville chapter of Mad Dads was formed.