Somewhere in the middle of Lisa Espinosa’s victim-impact statement Wednesday morning, I figured she wasn’t going to be joining other Philadelphians affected by gun violence at the Art Museum later that day.

She was one of the first people I’d asked to speak at Fill the Steps, a yearly gathering at the iconic museum to call attention to the seemingly impenetrable violence in this city. But that was before she stood in Courtroom 1107, in front of the man convicted of killing her son in 2016, and spelled out, in agonizing detail, what the last three years have been like for her and her family, including her dead son’s only daughter, who now visits her father at the cemetery.

“My new norm,” Espinosa said, struggling to get the words out. “Agonizing, heart-wrenching pain that feels like my chest is on fire.”

Philadelphians who have been impacted by gun violence gather on the steps of the Art Museum on June 22, 2016. Lisa Espinosa holds photos of her son, Raymond Pantoja who was killed on April 10, 2016. Since the beginning of the year, more than 500 people in Philadelphia have been shot and more than 100 have been killed.
Philadelphians who have been impacted by gun violence gather on the steps of the Art Museum on June 22, 2016. Lisa Espinosa holds photos of her son, Raymond Pantoja who was killed on April 10, 2016. Since the beginning of the year, more than 500 people in Philadelphia have been shot and more than 100 have been killed.

I’ve written about her in the past -- a mom who relentlessly pursued justice for her 26-year-old son, Raymond Pantoja, determined that he not become one of the city’s mounting unsolved murders. I’ve shared many of the details of what she and her family have endured since he was gunned down outside a nightclub. But Wednesday morning was a sobering reminder of how much pain families like hers carry, no matter how much time passes. We count up the number of murders in the city; they count the minutes and hours and days they are without the ones they love.

It’s one of the reasons I started to call people to the Art Museum steps four years ago, to put faces to the epidemic in Philadelphia.

What started as a small gathering — mostly mothers of murder victims, put together on a week’s notice after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida — has grown each year.

Family members impacted by violence surround Mykia Capers (at microphone) May 29, 2019 during the fourth annual Fill The Steps Against Gun Violence gathering in front of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Her son, Brandon Lamar Baylor, was gunned down inside the public housing development where his grandmother lives.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Family members impacted by violence surround Mykia Capers (at microphone) May 29, 2019 during the fourth annual Fill The Steps Against Gun Violence gathering in front of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Her son, Brandon Lamar Baylor, was gunned down inside the public housing development where his grandmother lives.

Everyone has a different reason for coming out. I have my own, including the hope that as people stand shoulder to shoulder they will realize that’s how close the impact of gun violence is to all of us. But that’s also how close the support and possible solutions are. Our elected officials must be held accountable.

But the answers aren’t all in City Hall.

When Espinosa accepted my invitation to speak, she said she wanted to remind people how the pain and trauma linger. But I could see the hearing drained her — especially after a computer virus shut down the court’s computer system, delaying a case that by her count had been continued more than 30 times. When I didn’t see her at the Art Museum steps later that night, I told the people introducing the speakers not to expect her.

But then I got a text.

“Here if you need me.”

And there she was, at the top of the steps, holding a picture of her son.

I waved her down and watched her walk to the lectern.

As the rain clouds threatened, she told those gathered that friends and family had advised her not to come. She should go home and rest.

“Guess what?" she said. "No! Because there is another victim that will be put to rest tonight. There is another family that will cry over their loved ones. There is another mother and father who will have to identify their loved ones.

"And that is not acceptable.”

Luis Berrios (right) stands with Carmen Pagan (left) at the fourth annual Fill The Steps Against Gun Violence gathering at the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art May 29, 2019. Berrios was shot during a robbery but has been spreading a message of forgiveness. Pagan's older brother, Richard Davila, was caught in crossfire and shot and killed in front of their mother's home.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Luis Berrios (right) stands with Carmen Pagan (left) at the fourth annual Fill The Steps Against Gun Violence gathering at the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art May 29, 2019. Berrios was shot during a robbery but has been spreading a message of forgiveness. Pagan's older brother, Richard Davila, was caught in crossfire and shot and killed in front of their mother's home.

Friday morning, she was back in court, though not for her son’s case — she’ll have to wait until next week for that. She was there to support a woman whose brother in 2016 was caught in the crossfire in front of their mother’s home.

Just like Espinosa had days earlier, Carmen Pagan addressed a judge and the young man convicted of killing her brother. Like Espinosa, she spoke of the pain, and how she turned it into purpose by speaking up against gun violence. She talked of young men who claim streets that don’t belong to them only to be claimed by those same streets long before their time. She looked at the young man awaiting his sentence, and asked the judge to sentence him accordingly.

“I feel sorry for all of us,” Pagan told the judge before he sentenced the man to life.