Teaching through the pain
A couple who lost their son warn students about guns.
By TERRI BRYCE REEVES, Times Staff Writer
Published September 14, 2007
SEMINOLE - The last time Jeanne Caroline saw her son Seanne, he was laid out in a coffin.
"I kissed him and told him no matter what, I would spread the message of gun safety so that no other parent of a child would have to suffer like I have," she said.
Four years after the accidental shooting that claimed their son's life, Jeanne, 46, and her husband, Sean, 45, are still spreading the word about Seanne (pronounced Shawn-ee) and gun safety. He died in an instant when his pal flaunted a loaded gun and, assuming it wasn't loaded, pulled the trigger.
In the past, the Largo couple's potent message has been aimed at parents, politicians and lawmakers, the people who have the power to control access to guns.
Recently though, they were approved by Pinellas County Schools to address middle and high school populations, those who could be victims or shooters.
On Thursday, their first effort was directed toward about 35 students taking health classes at Osceola Fundamental High School, 9751 98th St. N in Seminole.
It was a bittersweet day for the couple.
Seanne would have been 17 and starting his junior year. He had hoped to attend Osceola. Some of the teens in the class had known the handsome brown-eyed lad with blond tipped hair.
"My best friend really liked him," remembered Kayren Gunther, 16. "He was adorable and funny. He didn't get in trouble at all; he was a good kid."
She said she had shared the story about Seanne with her little brother just the other day. She remembered Seanne's funeral and how everyone wept so many tears.
"I don't know how his family has the strength to go through this," she said.
It's still not easy, Jeanne said. In fact, she dreads having to relive the whole thing.
"Days before a presentation I always get upset, stressed out and nervous," she said.
Still she feels compelled to share, to warn, to advise and inform.
One of her teaching tools is a video she helped co-produce in 2006 about four families who have been affected and emotionally destroyed by unintentional shootings. Called One Reckless Moment, A Lifetime of Emptiness, the 18-minute video features a reenactment by actors of the fateful day, Sept. 5, 2003, when Seanne, then a seventh-grader at Largo Middle, was shot to death by his 14-year-old friend, Louis Mevec.
The group of friends had played hooky that day. Louis found a .357 Magnum hidden under the couch at his home. It belonged to his father, a firefighter.
The video includes the actual 911 call when Louis told the operator what he had done.
"It's painful to hear again but we do whatever it takes to keep others from having to go through this," Jeanne said.
Before showing the film, Jeanne told the two classes she felt she had prepared her son for making decisions about drugs, sex and other issues. But she said she regrets one omission.
"I never assumed a parent would leave a loaded gun out," she said.
She told the teens that about eight youths under the age of 19 are killed in America by guns every day.
The couple asked the group who would stay in a room if someone had a gun he said wasn't loaded.
A few male hands shot up.
"Our son Seanne stayed and it cost him his life," Jeanne said. "He should have been sitting in this class right now."
The couple encouraged the teens to call 911 if they see a gun.
"Don't pick it up. Don't touch the gun," said Sean. "Call the police or tell an adult."
They also promoted an anonymous call line, 1-866-SPEAK-UP, where people can phone in and report possible weapons threats.
After the video and PowerPoint presentation, Aaron Palermo, 16, was moved to tears.
"I feel so bad. I've never seen someone die like that," he said. "I hope it's nothing I ever have to go through with my family or friends," he said.
Steven Stapleton, 17, said it taught him a valuable lesson.
"I will never keep a gun in my house because I have an 18-month-old son," he said. "And I will teach him what I've learned."
Want to know more?
For more information on Seanne's Wish Foundation, call Jeanne Caroline at (727) 596-6967 or visit www.seanneswish.com .
To report weapons threats anonymously call their partner organization, SPEAK UP, at 1-866-SPEAK UP.