I’m Joaquin “Guac” Oliver’s mom. My dear son had an incredible personality, energy, and love for life. He was on his way to making a real impact on this world before his life was senselessly and avoidably cut short at just 17—when he was killed in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, five years ago.
More than 250,000 victims of gun violence later, almost nothing has changed. No lesson has been learned. Instead, our society evades the issue by adapting itself to a “new norm” that accepts these atrocities as part of our daily life. At this point, and after the recent massacres in Nashville, Texas, and a new city almost every day, no one will convince me that this is a normal way of coexisting.
As a little boy, Joaquin was incredibly curious. At 3 years old, he would ask me what was written on the back of every cereal box and Happy Meal. He couldn’t wait to learn to read. At bedtime, I would always read to him—his favorite book was 101 Dalmatians.
As he grew, he developed a passion for writing. Passionate, poetic, and impactful, he poured his heart and personality onto the page. When we reflect on all he’s written, the meaning goes much deeper than expected. Joaquin wanted to be recognized as a friendly and sensitive human. He was wise beyond his years. Even after five years, I still regularly hear new stories of how his presence impacted so many people.
Two years ago we received a message from MLB player Jesús Luzardo telling us how Joaquin motivated him to become a better person. A few years ago, NBA legend Dwyane Wade wrote our son’s name on his shoe, that night he made the game-winning shot against the Philadelphia 76ers and he credited it to Joaquin. “It was like I was playing with angels in the outfield,” he shared. A girl in Argentina contacted us, asking for our blessing to talk about Joaquin at her graduation speech.
Now, everything we do is for him. We are trying to make the difference in the world that he was going to make.
This Mother’s Day, my mission is to honor Joaquin’s memory. Our new book, Joaquin’s First School Shooting, tells Joaquin’s story through simple words and illustrations.
Written and illustrated as a children’s book, it looks like one you’d find in a first grade classroom. But once you read it, you realize it is a haunting account of the terrible reality of gun violence and its impact in the United States.
This book is a call to action for all citizens to demand legislation from our elected officials that includes red flag laws, a ban on assault weapons, permit and training requirements, and a host of other basic safety measures—which the majority of American citizens have been demanding for decades. Gun fetishists frequently invoke their supposed right to bear arms, but Joaquin’s right to live life was abruptly stolen. It’s our hope that this book will inspire enough Americans to demand real action finally be taken.
We hope Joaquin’s story—told so simply a small child can understand it—can reach the adults who make our laws.
Perhaps we’ve been speaking over their heads, and all they needed was a story, Joaquin’s story, to reach their hearts.
Joaquin was in his creative writing class, writing a poem for his girlfriend, when a gunman opened fire.
No other mother should have to experience the tragedy and pain of having their child murdered. But this Mother’s Day, I know Joaquin’s spirit lives through us, and his story can help move others to make a better world.