Greenville, South Carolina– On Tuesday, May 16, Greenville resident Elke Kennedy will observe the 10-year anniversary of her son Sean Kennedy’s death. Sean was brutally murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in 2007. Ms. Kennedy has spent much of the last decade traveling the country and advocating for an end to hate violence. A decade after Sean’s killing she continues to speak out and stand with others who have lost loved ones in similar attacks.
“No mother should ever have to bury her child. No mother should ever have to lose her child to hate and violence. No mother should have to fight for justice for her child,” said Ms. Kennedy. “This has been my mantra from the moment I lost my precious Sean. In the last 10-years I have seen many positive changes, like the passage of a Federal Hate Crimes Bill. I have also been proud to stand with thousands of families who have experienced similar tragedies and work in solidarity towards solutions.”
Ms. Kennedy continued:
“But for all the progress we’ve made, we still see devastating setbacks like the The Pulse Nightclub tragedy. Our nation will soon mark the one-year anniversary of that horrific event, and I cry with all of the families and friends of those lost on June 12. Through our grief may we all find the strength and resilience to share our stories and build a world that celebrates diversity and embraces LGBTQ lives.”
The story of Sean’s murder still haunts Ms. Kennedy today.
“On May 16, 2007 my son Sean was leaving a straight nightclub where he had been with his friends. As he was leaving, he saw a car parked outside the club with three young men. One of them called Sean over and asked him for a cigarette. Sean gave him a cigarette. As he was walking away from the car, the guy in the back seat got out of the car, followed Sean, called him a faggot and punched him in the face so hard that it broke all of his facial bones and separated his brain from his brain stem. He fell to the ground and his head hit the ground, causing his brain to ricochet in his head. The guy got back into the car and left my son there dying. About 15 minutes later, Sean’s killer left a voicemail on the cellphone of a mutual female friend saying: ‘You tell your faggot friend when he wakes up he owes me $500 for breaking my fist on his faggot face.’”
Sean was pronounced brain dead at 11:20 PM, 17-hours after he was violently attacked. 65 young people who were friends of Sean stayed with Ms. Kennedy and her family at the hospital throughout the evening. “When we told them that Sean was brain dead, they were as devastated as we were.”
Sean was an organ donor. He his heart, lungs, both kidneys and liver saved the lives of five people. His killer was sentenced to just three-years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and served only 359 days. The other two were never charged.
“There was no justice for my son Sean,” Ms. Kennedy said. “But his death was not in vain. I will continue to honor his memory and speak out on behalf of all those impacted by bullying, hatred and violence. Sean brought so much love to all he knew and I intend to carry that love forward for the rest of my life.”
Following Sean’s death, Elke Kennedy created Sean’s Last Wish, a non-profit organization that educated people and communities about how hate, violence, bullying and religious bigotry destroy lives. She closed the foundation in recent years to address her own health issues. The national LGBTQ organization GLAAD, honored Ms. Kennedy at several events for her courage and advocacy. In 2009, President Obama signed an LGBT inclusive Federal Hate Crimes Bill into Law due in part to Elke’s tireless efforts to share her story and make change.
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