As we mourned slain Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton at the start of the year, we asked our readers whether they’ve been affected by gun violence, too. Here are some of the heartbreaking replies we received:

“Someone shot our only uncle in the head in the neighborhood we have been living in for 30 years and nobody knows anything. We are very fearful that the killer is someone that’s right in our face. It’s taking a toll on my family and kids.” -Yolanda W.

“My 15-year-old cousin, Christopher Jermaine Riley, was shot on Christmas night 2004 at a local party. He was Auburn University-bound on a football scholarship. He chose to live with his granny rather than at home so she wouldn’t feel alone. Seems it’s always the ‘good’ kids with promising futures. #RIP sweet Hadiya.” –Shaunda M.

“In 1997 my 18-year-old went to the store and never came back. Shot in a robbery attempt, he was two weeks away from his 19th birthday, which would have been Christmas Eve. These stories of senseless gun violence tears me apart. Does anyone care?!”- Debra G.

“I lost a childhood friend, Ray Onefucemall Moore, to gun violence. He was in his early 20’s and had so much life to live. I miss him every single day.”- Angela D.

“I lost a close friend in Los Angeles to gun violence. It was a mistaken identity almost like this Chicago shooting. My friend was a wife and mother of three. She was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”- April H.

“My best friend was killed in 2006. He was coming home from work and heading to the bus stop. Three men robbed him of an iPod, Jordans, and $25. He was one of the greatest people.The violence needs to stop!”- Latoya B.

“My oldest brother was murdered August, 28th 2010. He was shot five times.”- Shawn R.

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“My little cousin’s father was shot six times on 5/25/05 in East Orange, NJ in front of his building. It’s sad. I’m immune to it now. I’m 24 and death by gunshot does not phase me anymore. Sad.”- Jaleesa M.

“Yes, I have an uncle who was ambushed and killed in his home in Florida, I have two cousins from two generations killed in Chicago and more recently a young cousin within the same immediate family killed by other means also in Chicago. Chicago has not been kind to our family.”-Revbarbj

My grandson was shot 14 times while walking his dog. He is paralyzed from the waist down at 17 years old.” – Packer E.

“On October 23, 2012 I lost someone dear to my heart, my father, due to gun violence. He too was just an innocent bystander stolen from our family by the hands of an evil gunman. Knowing the pain of losing my father in that manner, I can only imagine how terrible her parents and loved ones feel after losing someone so young, so suddenly! I hope they find solace in the special moments they shared and knowing truly what a positive young woman she was.”-Dahlia F.

” My 34-year-old baby brother was killed two years ago in a robbery setup. Going through the trial and seeing this young man only 21 years old sit there and look defeated by his actions made me and my family angry. If he knew my brother, he would have known the money was no object and he would have gladly given it to him. My brother left behind three children and his oldest was pregnant with his first grandchild. We miss him deeply and when we hear of tragedies such as this young girl it opens up the pain all over again.”- Kim A.

“My nephew was shot on the streets in Philadelphia at 3 in the afternoon on January 27th. He was 25 and just received his MBA in January 2012 and was going to law school. Sad.”- Tytheone94

If you have your own experience you’d like to share, please do so below.

Join our Guns Down initiative now by downloading the letter to President Obama here and tweet your picture using the #ESSENCEGunsDown hashtag. Download the letter here.