The Baltimore mothers weren’t sure how to describe the “void,” but that’s what they called it.

It’s the feeling of losing a child abruptly to gun violence — the impossible-to-fill chasm left behind within each mom’s heart. Even as the city’s annual homicide count is set to fall below 300 this year, every person killed this year (and the years before) irreparably changed the parent they left behind.

Instead of trying to fill the void, some bereaved moms search for other women who have one, too. They want to build resilience together after living a nightmare.

Here’s what three moms say happened to them:

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Krystal Gonzalez, mother of Aaliyah Gonzalez

Krystal Gonzalez takes a moment during the book signing for Donna Bruce after announcing it had been five month since her daughter Aaliyah was murdered in the Brooklyn Homes shooting the July prior. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

In the months since Aaliyah Gonzalez was shot and killed during the Brooklyn Day block party, her mother, Krystal Gonzalez, hasn’t thrown away a single one of her belongings. Not even one faux eyelash.

The grief of losing her daughter has changed the way she sees things — from the trinkets in her daughter’s room to the city authorities who she believes did not do enough to prevent the shooting at the July 2 block party where Aaliyah was killed. Gonzalez brought the city’s top elected leaders to tears with her moving public testimony questioning why police failed to respond earlier in the night to multiple calls for help.

“I know who I am, but I’m very different today than I was,” Gonzalez said.

Melissa Bagley, mother of Kwalin Ray

Melissa Bagley holds a photo of her son, Kwalin Ray, who transitioned on April 3, 2022 — seventeen days before his 20th birthday. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Long before Melissa Bagley ever knew the loss of a child, she felt drawn to grieving mothers. She marched alongside them at anti-violence rallies, dedicated hours of outreach to connect them with services and trained as a death doula to better soothe them.

Becoming a grieving mother herself, she said, was the most unnatural experience of her life.

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The final texts between Bagley and her son, Kwalin Ray, on April 3, 2022, were a simple exchange: “I love you.” Just 27 minutes later, a 911 call reported that Kwalin Ray was shot and killed.

Erica Colbert, grandmother of Bryson Hudson

Erica Colbert sits in her home after discussing her grandson, Bryson, on Dec. 16, 2023. Bryson was shot and killed last August. He was 16. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Erica Colbert wants nothing more than to hold her grandson Bryson Hudson again – to be silly with him, laugh with him and feel him getting on her nerves.

“I want all those things back, and I’m never going to get them back,” Colbert said. “It’s never going to happen.”

Instead, she’s left dreaming about a mural in his honor that she hopes will be painted on the corner of Broadway and Ashland, where the 16-year-old was shot and killed on Aug. 14. Colbert goes to grief therapy three times a week, four hours at a time. And she’s enrolled at the University of Baltimore next year to study criminal justice so that she can fight for change in her grandson’s memory.

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