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INDIANAPOLIS — In 2014, DeAndra Dycus didn’t know what life would look like after her son DeAndre Knox, then 13 years old, was shot while attending a birthday party.

“When the doctor tells you seven days and your child lives seven years, it’s a pretty big deal,” said Dycus.

On Sunday, the community came together for the seventh annual Pray 4 Dre/Play 4 Dre Event, held at the Forest Manor Middle School, to honor Dre’s fight for survival.

As Dre attended, with a basketball in his lap, it was a reminder of something he loved to do — something he was doing not long before his life and his family’s life changed forever.

“Dre was shot only 48 hours after playing in his only seventh grade basketball game,” said Dycus.

On Feb. 1, 2014, a stray bullet entered the home where the birthday party was being held on Indy’s northwest side, striking Dre in the back of the head. He is paralyzed and unable to talk, but Dre’s smile says everything you need to know: he’s a fighter.

“He’s amazing. He’s a survivor like no other and he’s still in the fight with a brave heart and a big smile and I’m just completely grateful for it,” said Dycus. “So it was amazing to have the community here to stand with us and support us and say happy birthday to Dre.”

This year’s event was not only significant due to the fact it was held on Dre’s 21st birthday, but it was also the first time it returned in-person since the pandemic began.

The event included a variety of panels and speakers, along with a special needs fashion show and a basketball competition. Topics discussed included mental health, gun safety, de-escalation, living with grief and survival and the impacts on families, siblings and loved ones of victims.

At the event, donations were collected for the Gun Violence Memorial Project. Families impacted by gun violence were able to bring personal items, like baby shoes or graduation tassels, in honor of their loved ones lost. In total, around 15 families donated items, which will go on be a part of the national memorial in Washington, D.C., something Dycus called ‘extremely emotional and powerful.’

Dycus founded Purpose 4 My Pain, a non-profit dedicated to curbing gun violence in the community, not long after the shooting that injured her son. She works to help support families and show them that they’re not alone in their grief and healing.

“For me as a mother, I immediately think to the parents, the mother and the pain and how your life has changed forever and how people don’t understand that,” said Dycus. “They are resolving conflict in the worst way, not understanding how many lives it impacts.”

Dycus said people must continue linking arms with families in the aftermath of tragedies and showing support for others in the community.

“Making sure we’re supporting families and not forgetting about them when the next story happens,” she said.

On Sunday, at the Pray 4 Dre/Play 4 Dre event, several mothers of victims lost to gun violence showed up, standing hand-in-hand to echo that message. If Dycus could use one word to describe what she witnessed, she would said that would be ‘resilience.’

“We can all still stand here in the aftermath of so much trauma and so much pain and remain resilient. That’s how I would sum it up.”

Several groups against gun violence were at Sunday’s event, including Siblings Changing and Restoring Society (SCARS) members Ashlynne Stokes and Syreeta Adams, who lost lost siblings to gun violence.

“We do understand there it comes to a point where somebody’s gotta be ready to share their story and talk about it, but we welcome everybody to our sibling support group,” said Stokes.

Like Dycus, Stokes and Adams agree that the community needs to come together and work towards solutions to prevent one more family from the heartache theirs have experienced.

“If we can somehow come together in the community and learn how to communicate, have compassion in regards for other people’s lives and be able to resolve conflict. It’s that simple,” said Stokes.

Adams added, “I think the more and more people do something, it’s gonna impact it. I always say, if we help one person, then we’ve done something.”

“Keep reaching out to families. If you know something, say something. That’s a big part of it. When we’re not saying anything, people are continuing to commit these kinds of crimes,” said Dycus.