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A Mother’s Tragedy Gives Birth To A Mission

Lois A. Schaffer’s story will break your heart. If you are a parent, it will break your heart many times more. Five years ago, Schaffer’s daughter Susie was shot and killed in the kitchen of her St. Louis home by two teenage burglars.

As novelist Joan Didion put it, “What greater grief can there be for mortals than to see their children dead?”

But Schaffer has channeled her grief into a cause and a new book, The Unthinkable: Life, Loss, and a Mother’s Mission to Ban Illegal Guns, published on Dec. 18, the fifth anniversary of Susie’s death.

“I miss my daughter. The feeling is sadness,” said the tiny, energetic 78-year-old who lives in Great Neck with her husband, David. “I wanted to put a face on gun violence.”

The book does that remarkably well. Susie, a 1978 graduate of Great Neck South High School, was a wife, mother of three and owner of a fitness studio in St. Louis. As Schaffer writes: “She was a vibrant human being with a personality that mixed strength and softness, a blend of focused grit and sensitivity, sometimes mischievous and often outspoken.”

How she died is vividly portrayed as well, with two 17-year-olds, Shepard and Wilson, a thug police described as “pure evil,” breaking into Susie’s home:

Shepard told the police that Wilson insisted they stay because “they didn’t come for nothin’.” He ordered Shepard to check upstairs while he looked downstairs to see what they could steal. They both rummaged through the house and took a camera, a laptop, and a cell phone that belonged to Daniel and Sarah, our grandchildren.

Wilson was surprised by Susie’s unexpected arrival as he opened the refrigerator. Rachel [Susie’s daughter] was speaking to Susie on her cell phone as she interrupted the burglary and heard Susie shout “What the hell is going on here?”

Clutching the stolen items, Shepard bolted out the door. When Wilson spotted Susie, he shot her once. She collapsed onto the floor, and he shot her twice more in the back as she lay in a pool of blood. Then Wilson followed Shepard out the door, and both ran back to Shepard’s house. Shepard later told the police that Wilson offered him the gun and said, “Now you take it and shoot somebody. I want you to know how it feels.”

“It’s the gun,” Schaffer said emphatically. “It’s the gun. If the gun was not so accessible, you wouldn’t have all of these murders and massacres.

Indeed, The Unthinkable lists dozens of events in recent years, from 33 dead in 2007’s Virginia Tech shooting to last year’s Newtown tragedy to random killings such as Susie’s.

“Now more than ever action is needed,” Schaffer said. “Since Newtown there have been thousands of more deaths.”

She wants her story to stir people to demand what she calls “legislative movement.”

“Even if it’s just background checks on people buying guns, it’s something,” she said.

In fact, just weeks before her daughter’s death, Schaffer offered her help to State Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck) in her quest to pass a measure requiring micro-stamping on firearms.

“I’ve always been politically involved,” said Schaffer, who until about six years ago worked as the development director for the Pearl Lang Dance Foundation.

Since her daughter’s killing, Schaffer has been taking her story and mission wherever she can, attending anti-gun rallies and legislative hearings in both New York and Connecticut. She chaired the recent Guns Kill People forum in Great Neck sponsored by Reach Out America, and expects to speak at temples, churches and community organizations around the area.

“I am not going to bring her back,” Schaffer said of Susie. “To me, if people can do something in some way for change, that is a tribute.”

The book is available at Amazon and www.loisschaffer.com

John Owens is editor in chief of Anton Community Newspapers. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it