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This was broadcast Oct. 28 on a special episode of All Things Peoria, focused on the long trauma of gun violence in Peoria and those working to face it head-on.

Peoria mom's message: Don't become numb to the violence. Normalize working through the trauma as a community

Jashawnda Dunigan with her stepson Terrence Dunigan, Jr. The 21-year-old was killed in what authorities call a dice game gone wrong in September 2020.
OSF Healthcare
Jashawnda Dunigan with her stepson Terrence Dunigan, Jr. The 21-year-old was killed in what authorities call a dice game gone wrong in September 2020.

Jashawnda Dunigan knows the pain Peoria's gun violence leaves in its wake. She's experienced it. Again. And again. And again.

"My brother was murdered inside his home with a home invasion, alongside with his girlfriend. They were both murdered inside the home of my two youngest niece and nephew, who actually had to hear their father and her take their last breath, and also hear the gunshots," she said.

That happened in 2013. The culprits are still at large. That leads to what Dunigan calls the "fear factor."

"So you still have the walk the streets and wonder, is the murderer amongst me? Are they beside me? Are you looking at me? Are you laughing even at me? Are you mocking me because you believe you got away with this?" she asked.

The same day in 2013 Dunigan lost her brother, her brother-in-law was also killed in a separate physical assault.

Dip deeper into WCBU's past coverage of violence in Peoria, including community resources and an interactive map tracking homicides.

Last year, Dunigan's heart was torn open again when her stepson, 21-year-old Terrence Dunigan, Jr., was fatally shot at what authorities described as a dice game gone terribly wrong.

In the past year alone, she's lost five more loved ones to gun violence in Peoria. And she knows she's not alone.

"Most of the city of Peoria is walking around...It's not only my family, your family. Everybody's family is walking around with some PTSD. This has became so normalized. It's like it's something, like we're to eat it every day," Dunigan said. "No, this should not be normalized. It's affecting people. It's affecting us as a human race."

But repeated trauma can lead to a sense of numbness towards the violence that leads to normalization of it in a community. Samantha Schubach is a counselor at the OSF Strive Trauma Recovery Center in Peoria. She's also Dunigan's counselor.

"It's multigenerational. It becomes ingrained into our families and our family systems. And so when we think we get a hold on it, maybe on an individual level, we forget that it's being passed from parents, to kids and aunts, to nieces and nephews. And it just seems to become systemic in that sense that it hasn't gone away," Schubach said.

Part of coping with the trauma both on the individual and community levels is normalizing mental health treatment, Dunigan said.

"We're saying in a society, 'just deal with it.' No, you have to learn to live with it. It's a learning process. But each day you're doing your best just to get up out of bed and get dressed, and enter back into this world," Dunigan said.

"It's something you just shut down and deal with it and ignore it, and move on and get over it. 'Yeah, well just get over it' or 'just to be expected,'" Schubach said.

Dunigan said that attitude toward mental health treatment has to change for the community to begin to heal.

"First, let's just say it's okay. It's okay," she said.

Schubach said violence-related trauma can spread fear throughout an entire community.

"We've had recent difficulties in the schools. And that's one of the places that I am, as well. And when our kids are scared to go to school, because there's going to be violence, how do I convince them to go to school? They already had safety precautions in place to hopefully mitigate those concerns, and things still happened," she said.

Dunigan said parents need to talk with their children about what's happening, and be available as an outlet.

"We have to let our children know this is not normal. What is normal is to talk about your emotions. It's okay to feel hurt. It's okay to be discouraged. It's okay to have pain," she said.

Dunigan began attending sessions with Schubach last December. Schubach said she's often met with a lot of reservations. Some teenagers in particular compare attending counseling to gossiping, or worse, snitching.

"It's hard because a lot of people don't want to come in and think they're sharing their business or talking about other things. It's really hard to convince people, like this is a private confidential setting, that your information isn't going to be put out there for everybody to know. And that when you come in, we do work on things," Schubach said.

Dunigan said it feels like she becomes naked when she lets down her guard and speaks about what she's truly feeling. But she's worked her way up to speaking her personal truth with Schubach.

"Just tell your true emotions where you can just be naked and no one can judge you. Come on, go. Because we all need it as a community," she said.

OSF Strive is funded through a grant via the U.S. Department of Justice and Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. All services are provided free for adults and teens living in the city of Peoria who meet the criteria. Click here or call (309) 308-2030.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.