Written by: Kim Russell
April 24, 1999, was a Saturday. For me, that meant date night in Atlanta. Philip and I were kind of on-again-off-again dating, and it was looking like we might be heading into on-again status, again.
Philip taught geography and world history at Norcross High School in Georgia. So the Columbine High School shooting just four days earlier weighed heavily on him. We talked about what motivated those kids to do what they did, about how atrocious it was, and how that could never happen again.
After dinner, we drove to an artist's warehouse party in a neighborhood known for its streets lined with elegant Victorian homes. Philip parked his SUV as I walked ahead. Then—the noise. I heard what I thought were fireworks until I realized it was gunfire. The shooter fired in my direction as I desperately sought cover. I slithered under an old truck and waited as my mind processed the situation. I heard footsteps and played dead. My heart was pounding so violently I swear I could hear it.
The shooter approached and put his gun to my head, demanding my purse. Lying under that truck, I gave him the purse, opened my eyes, and said, “Please don’t do this.” I squeezed my body and prepared to be shot. For some reason I’ll never know, he fired into the air and ran off into the night. When friendly voices approached, I was able to stand and we ran to Philip, who was lying on the ground. It wasn't until after the ambulance took off with Philip that I realized I'd been shot too, in the back. My wounds were not as serious as Philip’s. When I arrived at the hospital, a priest came to tell me that Philip didn't make it.
The man who shot Philip and I will likely be out of prison in a few years. He will get out of prison in the state of Georgia where there are not background checks on all gun sales. He will be able to go to a gun show or on the Internet to purchase another gun with no questions asked - no background checks. This man is a confessed murderer who killed someone with a gun and he’ll be able to get another one. We must finish the job, so there are background checks on all gun sales, because otherwise people like him can easily get their hands on another. They don’t even have to try.
Philip was an incredible teacher who engaged his students. He held french-fry study sessions after school so they'd do well on their tests. He volunteered to help underserved kids at Create Your Dreams and loved to spend time outdoors. He always had a smile on his face and time to listen. The world would be better if he were still in it. He is deeply missed by his community, family, and me.