By Mary Alice Miller
One year ago, Denise Peace heard a news flash on the television at work: a shooting had taken place in Brownsville. Drawn to the television, Ms. Peace saw someone lying on the ground covered in a white sheet with only the palm of a hand exposed. Recognizing the hand, Ms. Peace said to herself, ‘That’s my daughter. She needs me.’ Ms. Peace told her employer that she had to go help her daughter. By the time Ms. Peace grabbed her coat, the police were knocking on the door with the grim news.
A year has gone by since that fateful afternoon when shots rang out from the rooftop on Pitkin Avenue. Hero mom Zurana Horton had used her own body as a human shield to protect schoolchildren from being shot. The mother of 12 children, Zurana was memorialized for displaying courage few have.
“When I heard that my daughter died shielding other people’s children, it wasn’t a surprise to me,” said Ms. Peace. “That’s the type of person she was.”
When Ms. Peace talks about her daughter, she hugs her grandchildren tightly. “Zurana loved her children. She loved the laughter of the babies and being a mother. She loved her family. We stayed in church. We did things together as a family,” said Ms. Peace. “She was a devoted daughter to me.”
According to Ms. Peace, Zurana had dreams for her children. “Zurana had dreams of taking them to Walt Disney World, Florida before she passed. She wanted to move away from Brownsville. She wanted to go live upstate… buy a house for her children. She really had plans to do so much with her babies,” said Ms. Peace. Her voice dropped as she whispered, “It’s so sad that it ended so quickly.”
While Ms. Peace spoke, Zurana’s youngest 4 children happily bounced around the living room. Raymond (5), Shaniya (4), Siya (3) and Neiyma (2) laugh and play together, their bright eyes shining. “The young ones were so young when she passed, they just think she went away for awhile,” said Ms. Peace. “They don’t think she’s going forever.” She added, “The older ones know she’s in heaven. They still love their mother and wish it never happened.”
Tyquran, Zurana’s 17-year-old, wears his mother’s picture around his neck. Ms. Peace said he had a chain made with his mother’s picture in it. Zurana’s other children are living with their father.
Zurana was not the first child Ms. Peace lost to street gun violence. She can point out her living room window to the spot in front of the corner store where in 1990 16-year-old Quaran was shot in an attempted robbery of his leather jacket. Pointing in the same direction, Ms. Peace said her 32 year old son Zacquan was shot and left for dead one block away in 2010.
The painful memories are overshadowed by her love for her grandchildren. Ms. Peace is grateful to keep the four youngest together. They visit with their older siblings often, either at her home, or their father’s.
Ms. Peace’s one wish is for a bigger apartment so that Tyquran can have a little teenage privacy. After decades of living in Bushwich, Ms. Peace would not mind moving her grandchildren to Canarsie or Queens.
Looking at the walls full of family pictures, Ms. Peace pointed out all Zurana’s children. “She loved her children deeply. I guess to her, she had family, but with her own she had a bigger family. The idea of family was important to her. She was really hoping for the future of her children,” said Ms. Peace. “That’s what Zurana wanted to have — a big loving family.”