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Drive-By Agony --but No Tears

She knows the pain of losing two sons to guns. Somehow she survived. Now Lorna Hawkins is dedicated to moving other parents through the grief and anger.


It's purple. Plastic. Tricked out with a space-aged Jetsons effect--slender barrel encircled by pink doodads, like Saturn's rings, and a matching tiny trigger.

With thumb and forefinger, Lorna Hawkins gingerly slides the toy from a crumpled brown lunch sack. She mock-frowns at grandson James, 5, who wiggles back into the air-conditioned shadows of his mother's car.

Hawkins aims a leaden look her daughter's way. Francie simply shrugs--a motion equivalent of a world-weary I know, I know.

She does.

They do.

There's no use hiding, Hawkins' body insists, as she juts her face into the car. "You know you don't need to be taking this to school," she tells James, her expression an exaggeration of anger, a mask. She holds the water gun up for his perusal, his chance for a parting glance. She reaches toward his squirming form: "Gimme a hug." They dance; he gives.

The sun is white, unyielding. Even a breeze with a hint of the sea can't blunt its glare. Nor does it diminish Hawkins' intensity--all muscle and angles, fine bones, big laugh, with the conserved reserve of a sprinter.

Staring after the white coupe as it merges into sluggish traffic, Hawkins pulls the water pistol out of the bag once more: "You know the kids in the neighborhood hate to see me coming. 'Cause I'm gonna take their guns. They know that and they hide them from me."

But what if they employ imagination, using fingers to forge some crude replica?

Her smile has an edge that could cut through iron: "I will twist that finger until it breaks."


This is not a fanaticism born of idleness, not a woman who needed a cause to fill her open, empty days. It is instead a calling, a tangible plan to work through the inexplicable, an unspeakable cavernous loss; a way to move a body forward when the spirit wants simply to march in place.

"I didn't want to allow people to think that I'm just a crying mother in the wilderness. Doing nothing. I'm sick of all that," explains Hawkins, resting on a bench outside the old Lynwood trolley station that serves as headquarters for Drive-By Agony, a nonprofit resource center for victims of violent crime she founded seven years ago.

Hawkins recasts the stock, tragic image: "First of all, you never see me cry. You see me bringing awareness to drive-by shootings and people being murdered hundredfold."

She is not speaking in abstracts, nor investing in hyperbole. Rather she is drawing from a well with which she is painfully intimate: the drink of loss.

In the span of just more than four years (1988-'92), Hawkins lost both sons--Joe at 21 and Gerald at 22--to wild bullets and some random form of street rage.

Reminders tucked throughout the office guide the purpose: snapshots of Joe, GQ-ing it in the yard; Gerald, smiling, showing off his fish bounty. Posted nearby is a poem written to honor their memory.

Admittedly still wandering through the emotional minefield of loss, she too is in fast-forward action. A sticker affixed on a wall high above the tapping computer keys, bleating phones and squealing fax machines sets forth the only explicit house rule: "No Whining."

With satellites now in Pasadena, Los Angeles, Victorville and as far away as Wisconsin, Drive-By Agony--the living, breathing, working monument Hawkins has erected to her dead sons--started not as a center per se, but as a public access cable show.

"She's been around for a long time, which is very difficult in this business," says Alex Vargas, director of the Victims of Crimes program for the L.A. city attorney's office. "You can get community attention, but after a while you kind of fade away. With her, the difference is, I think, she really believes in what she is doing."

For Hawkins, it would be impossible to do anything but. Still, she would be the first to admit that it is a strange border to straddle--one foot planted firmly amid the living, mining the future, the other walking among the spirits of the dead.

When she's not doling out information about low-cost funeral arrangements to the grieving, she's stepping into the studio to work on assembling the next group of guests and topics for "Drive-By Agony." (It airs in nine Southland cities, Monday nights at 8:30 and Fridays at 6:30 p.m.)

The pendulum swings swiftly--from her proactive, prevention work with SAFE (Saving American Families Everywhere), a youth program targeted to ages 5-25 that offers training in conflict resolution, community involvement and violence prevention, to Drive-By Agony's commemorative March for Peace, which, since 1991, has united peace brokers and victims rights organizations to stimulate long-muted discussions around victims rights issues--from stricter firearm legislation to restitution.

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