My son’s murder is still unsolved. I want justice — and tougher gun laws

In an average year, more than 1,500 people die and more than 4,100 others are wounded by guns in Illinois. Thousands have loved ones taken from them.

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Valerie Burgest and her son.

Valerie Burgest and her son.

Provided photo.

My son was named Craig Williams. On Dec. 28, 2013, when he was just 23, he was shot and killed on the South Side of Chicago. I laid him to rest a week later. My son was not taken because of illness, or an accident. His life ended because someone had a gun — someone who in all likelihood should not have had one — someone with no regard for human life.

My son left behind me, a dad, and a slew of relatives and friends who knew and loved him. He also left behind two children who will grow up without knowing anything about their father, other than the stories we share with them. His children were 11 months and 19 months at the time of his murder.

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His son and daughter will never be able to experience a hands-on father’s love. His daughter won’t have that special bond that a girl shares with her dad. She will not have that first love who is her father. His son won’t be able to grow up with the guiding hand of a father, to help develop him and see him become a man. I know that there’s nothing that Craig wouldn’t have done for his children. And there’s nothing he wouldn’t have done for me. 

The week of Feb. 1-7 marks National Gun Violence Survivors Week, a time to recognize the heartbreaking toll of gun violence and honor survivors. For me, and for the countless other survivors in our state and across the nation, every week is gun violence survivors’ week. We live this nightmare every single day.

In an average year, more than 1,500 people die and more than 4,100 others are wounded by guns in Illinois. Chicago in 2021 had more than 800 murders, the highest in 25 years. Thousands more people every year also become survivors, when loved ones are taken from them. This pain cannot continue. 

No closure

I joined Moms Demand Action and the Everytown Survivor Network to turn the pain and grief I was experiencing into something that felt meaningful and had purpose. Through my advocacy, I fight to make sure that no mother, and no loved one, has to endure the same heartbreaking loss that I live with every single day.

It’s been just over eight years since my son’s life was taken from us, and his murder is still unsolved. The pain of an unsolved murder has been a double edged-sword: first, my son is killed, and then the police have not been able to investigate, find the person who took my son from me and bring that person to justice. I share my story with hope for two things: that one day my son’s killer will be found and held responsible for the pain they caused, and that our leaders continue the work needed to ensure that no one else has to go through what I did.

There is a lot of talk about survivors needing closure, but there is no closure for me because Craig is not here. What I want and need is accountability — the shooter needs to be held responsible for senselessly taking a life.

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To truly put an end to our gun violence crisis, all of us must do everything we can to keep firearms out of the wrong hands and to hold accountable those who continue to take lives. But accountability alone will not stop our community’s pain — it must go hand in hand with common-sense gun safety legislation.

My son was an only child, a family-oriented man who loved sports, especially basketball, and his children with all of his heart. I was blessed to have him in my life for 23 years. I would have wanted 23 more. Now, I will continue to honor him with action. 

I encourage you all to join me in the fight to end gun violence once and for all. 

Valerie Burgest is a Survivor Fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network and a volunteer with the Illinois Chapter of Moms Demand Action.

Anyone with information about an unsolved murder can call the Chicago Police tip line at (833) 408-0069 or (312) 746-7330. Callers can be anonymous.

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