Father's death inspires Flint native to tackle gun violence

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BURTON, Mich. — Joseph Pettigrew knew something wasn’t right once he looked at his phone.
The 24-year-old Flint native finished a run at Bicentennial Park in Grand Blanc Township on May 1, 2018 and went home for a shower before heading to a panel for Democratic gubernatorial candidates at Baker College. While seated in the crowd, Pettigrew began to receive phone calls from his mother, Aretha. He counted at least 10 missed calls.
She was worried about his father, Sidney Pettigrew Jr., who’d not contacted any family members after leaving home that day.
After checking local hospitals and other facilities and coming up empty, Joseph Pettigrew spotted a post about a shooting in the area of the fitness center which triggered a lockdown at a nearby school. Ashia Pettigrew, Joseph’s older sister, headed to the area.
“I say about 10, 15 minutes pass by,” said Joseph Pettigrew. “She calls us back and says, ‘Yes, it was him. The detective is on his way to come speak with us.'”
Sidney Pettigrew Jr. was pronounced dead at Hurley Medical Center. He was 51 years old. That’s the moment Joseph’s life changed.
“I didn’t know how to react to it. I didn’t know what to say,” he said. “My mom was flipping out. I was literally at a loss for words. I would say that specific day was the worst day of my life whatsoever.”
In the days and months since the shooting, some parts of life have regained their routine. Pettigrew is still wrapping up his bachelor’s degree at Eastern Michigan University, for instance.
But the impact of that day’s events linger — the frustration over the length of the investigation with no charges as of yet — all of which have spurred his efforts to try and alleviate some of the gun violence taking place in Flint.
Iit was the death of his father that made him want to make a difference.
“I would say me, just to be honest, before my dad died I cared about gun violence but it wasn’t like a thing I had to deal with,” said Joseph Pettigrew. “I’d say, ‘That’s messed up, I feel for their family.” But it didn’t go beyond that point.”
He has started sharing his story through the Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and is now organizing Flint Youth Against Gun Violence. The group will target millennials with a focus on education about gun legislation, awareness and the wide-reaching impact of violent acts.