EAST CHICAGO — Pamela Newson said her son Iyuan Yarbrought “breathed just long enough to call out his killer’s name” the day he was shot eight times March 31, 2016, in Hammond.

Her 23-year-old son’s death left her heartbroken, but Newson said she turned to her faith in God to heal and launched a social media support group called “Healing Hearts” to help families impacted by gun violence.

“I prayed and I prayed. It wasn’t just about me anymore,” Newson said.  

Newson was one of several mothers who connected — some for the first time — at Saturday’s anti-violence rally at Callahan Park in East Chicago, brought together by the event’s organizer, Vickie Morris.

Morris lost her own son, Daniel Burns, to gun violence in Indianapolis in October 2015.

“This is where my heart is,” Morris said of hosting her second annual “Stop The Violence” rally and youth basketball tournament in her hometown.

Scores of people came to Morris’ event Saturday, many wearing shirts with photos and names of gun violence victims. 

Indiana Black Expo's local Lakeshore East Chicago chapter donated the food and music. Families released balloons for those lost to gun violence. 

The shirt Mary Sandifer wore Saturday was printed with a selfie of her son, Antoine Howard, in his favorite purple-and-gold Los Angeles Lakers hat with the hashtag #JusticeForMyAngel.

The 38-year-old's death on Jan. 30 marked the city of Gary’s first homicide of 2017. Though his killer has never been charged, Sandifer said she knows who it is and is not giving up until justice is served.

 “I don’t want my son to be a cold case,” Sandifer said. She said Howard, her only son, was her heart and soul, a father of five children and owner of a landscaping business. 

Pastor Donald Ramirez, of Cross Church Ministries, in East Chicago, said he talked to the teens and children at the rally about his life — how at age 12, he joined a gang, and at 15, he was shot in the leg.

At 17, he was incarcerated at a Chicago prison on home invasion charges. 

Ramirez, who was raised by his grandparents and never knew his father, said it wasn't until he married the love of his life and had children that he turned his life around.

"God taught me to be a father to this community in a fatherless generation," Ramirez said. 

Melissa Williams and Tanesha Wright, of East Chicago, passed out flyers to families about a local support group called "Grieving Mothers Coping." 

"There are no local support groups in East Chicago," Melissa Williams said. 

Williams called her two sons, Dominique Wright, 24, and Donnovan Williams, 19, "her heroes and angels." She lost them 27 days apart in December 2014 to gun violence. 

The group meets about every two weeks at the East Chicago Library at 1008 W. Chicago Ave. 

While at the rally, Melissa Williams and Morris connected with Karen Williams, of Gary, who lost her son, DeShalone Williams, 18, on Jan. 14, 2013, to gun violence. 

A teary-eyed Karen Williams said she never wanted to know how it feels to lose a child. 

"You never get over the hurt," she said. 

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Public safety reporter

Lauren covers breaking news, crime and courts for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet covering government, public policy, and the region’s heroin epidemic. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.