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Teens continue efforts to counter gun violence

Family of murder victim want her death to have meaning, reject vengeance

Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School is continuing to coordinate a student coalition to counter gun violence in the name of a murdered graduate, and her family is humbled by those efforts.

Students at the Catholic high school began the initiative after the murder of Cardinal Ritter Prep Class of 2020 graduate Isis Mahr. The 19-year-old, who planned to become a nurse, was returning home from work at an elderly care facility Oct. 17 when she was shot and killed.

High school students from throughout the archdiocese and others joined a march and rally at the school on Dec. 1 that promised to start a movement. Read more about the march at https://stlreview.com/3m4ZNN2.

Cardinal Ritter Prep’s president, Tamiko Armstead, hosted a meeting Dec. 10 led by students with others in the community to solidify next steps. The archdiocese is also supporting an effort among Catholic schools to speak to this issue on an ongoing basis.

James Clark of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, which is supporting the teens, said ideas the high school students mentioned initially included a yard-sign campaign, public events and activities, and an outreach stressing nonviolence to middle school students.

Isis’ father, Atif Mahr, called the march and rally the start of something important. “God was the one that put that together,” he said. “God gave them the idea, and they went out and executed it.”

Isis’ grandmother, Brenda Mahr, said, “this generation has to take charge of this violence because the generation before them have let the violence slide,” she said. “We have to give them license to lead and we provide guidance as opposed to trying to take it over as adults.”

A candlelight vigil and balloon release was held earlier for Isis, with a turnout of hundreds of people, Brenda Mahr said. “Usually that’s the end of it when we lose a young person. But these young people said no. It will continue.”

The Mahrs’ parish, St. Alphonsus Liguori “Rock” Church, has been a big support for the family. The heartfelt words from the parish priests and staff meant a lot to the Mahrs. Others in the archdiocese have reached out as well.

Brenda Mahr said that at a time when others show resentment, Atif’s faith led him to think of his daughter’s death as a community epidemic that needs to be addressed. “I have been so elated with my son’s unselfishness since the very beginning. Rather than just focus on what happened to his daughter, he wants what happened to have meaning and a community impact, so that this stops and we say ‘no more.’ Like he said, it was God that put that on his heart and it is his faith that saves him and our family.”

God is the light that leads his response toward the two charged in Isis’ death. Two teens were charged with first-degree murder, three counts of assault and four counts of armed criminal action in the case. The justice system deals with the offenders “as is fit on earth, but God says He is the one who delivers all vengeance, and it will come sevenfold,” Atif Mahr said. “So with that, I have no malice toward anyone. Because if I do, it will be my fault. I hurt for the young men. I’m angry because I was not in their lives. If I had been there, maybe my daughter would be alive. At the end of the day, all things happen for a reason. Maybe God has sent me on a path to stop the violence.”

Brenda Mahr said three lives were destroyed by this. The toll landed on the victim as well as the people who committed the crime and their families.

She worked with ex-offenders as executive director of Employment Connection, which has expanded its scope but had an initial mission of helping ex-offenders find employment. “It’s a no-win situation and horrible for the entire community,” Brenda Mahr said.

Starting about 10 years ago, Atif and Isis Mahr began hosting programs at the Wohl Center in St. Louis aimed at a reduction of violence. The Stop the Violence Games included job fairs, performances by musical artists with a positive message and all-day basketball tournaments. “I was already embedded in this fight along with Isis,” he said.

Isis, as an alum of Cardinal Ritter Prep, volunteered in the concession stand at games. She also mentored other students there. She assisted with the girls soccer team as well. “She worked diligently for others,” Atif Mahr said.

“The Church proclaims that violence is evil, that violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems; that violence is unworthy of humanity. Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings.”

St. John Paul II, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 496

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