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Sam Strahan’s mother recounts loss, urges change at event calling for gun reform

With portraits of the 17 Parkland shooting victims behind her, Ami Strahan speaks during the Art 4 Reform event about the life of her son Sam who was killed in a shooting at Freeman High School on Sept. 13, 2017. The anti-gun violence fundraising event was held Thursday, April 19, 2018, at the McGinnity Room venue in downtown Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Students around the Inland Northwest will step out of school today to honor those killed in recent shootings. Meanwhile, Ami Strahan will mark what should have been her 22nd anniversary with her husband, Scott.

Speaking before a crowded room Thursday, Ami Strahan noted that today is also the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in which two shooters killed 12 students and one teacher. Last year, just three months after her husband was crushed on Father’s Day under a camping trailer, 15-year-old Sam Strahan was killed Sept. 13 during a shooting at Freeman High School.

“Since that day, so many more students have died while they were attending school. Writing this sounds just absurd,” Ami Strahan said, reading from prepared notes. “To think that kids died going to school.

“This is not the way this is supposed to work. What has the world come to? Children should come home. Sam should have come home.”

Strahan spoke at an event organized by attorney Janelle Carney and interior designer Carolina Johnson, who painted murals of all 17 students and teachers who were killed on Feb. 14 in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Johnson also painted a special portrait of Sam Strahan that she presented to Ami at the first event for the newly formed Art 4 Reform that she and Carney co-founded last month.

“I want my children to feel safe to go to school,” Johnson said. “I respect hunting and people owning guns. But some loopholes need to be addressed.”

Since they announced the event, the women said they’ve received about 200 messages that included insults, anger and even death threats.

“We were going to be anonymous,” Carney said. “But we decided it was too important and that we were going to be brave for our children.”

Ami Strahan reluctantly stood in front of the gathered crowd at the McGinnity Room, 116 W. Pacific Ave. She fought to keep her composure as she relayed her personal devastation.

“Not all people who own guns kill people, right? But the common denominator is the gun itself,” she said. “If you remove the gun from the equation, it just becomes about people.

“Don’t misunderstand me, I am not somebody who believes everyone needs to give away their guns and not have them,” she said. “But I have a big problem with assault rifles being available to people on the street. I think they are killing machines. And I don’t think, believe they are designed for deer hunting.”

The shooter charged with Sam’s killing, Caleb Sharpe, reportedly had an AR-15 rifle with several magazines of ammunition when he entered Freeman. But the rifle jammed and he instead shot Sam and three girls with a pistol.

“Luckily, Sam was the only child who died that day,” she said. “But those that were injured, and those that were there that day, will face this tragedy for years to come. The ripple of their pain transcends to everyone around them.”

Strahan implored the attendees to daily express their love to their children. She relayed the story of the night before Sam was killed. He really needed a shower but kept refusing to wash.

“I was really trying. ‘Why wouldn’t you want to take a shower?’ ” she said. “But he got really tired. He was stomping up to his room and said, ‘Goodnight, mother.’ I went to bed just heartbroken. I just went to bed in tears.”

The next day, Ami Strahan woke up determined “to fix this. We are going to repair it.”

Sam came downstairs “and I stopped him and I told him that I was just doing the very best that I could, and that I loved him. And he said, ‘I know. I love you, too.’

“And that was the last conversation I ever had with him. But I thank God, right? What a great way to end it. What followed that day was actually the worst day of my life. I lost myself, who I am still trying to find.”