DAVENPORT, Iowa — It's been just over a year since 22-year-old Italia Kelly was shot and killed after attending a protest for racial justice in Davenport. Now, her family says the lasting impact of gun violence has forever shaped who they are.
"It doesn't seem like it's been a year. It just still seems like yesterday to us," said her mother, Sharon Kelly. "It's not been easy. I still expect her to walk through the door every day."
Kelly was shot while riding in the passenger seat of a car in the parking lot of Davenport's Kimberley Road Walmart. It was part of a chain of events that rocked the city from Sunday night until Monday morning, including rioting, an officer being shot, and another young person gunned down.
The suspect, then 21-year-old Parker Belz is currently in jail, awaiting his October trial for the first degree murder of Kelly.
Sharon Kelly says gun violence has forever scarred her family. Since Italia's passing at least two of her other children have been battling PTSD and depression, and Sharon herself is about to move out of state.
"I'm never going to get better here. People know us, see us. Italia grew up. It's not a healing place right now," she said. "And I know being here where she grew up and where she enjoyed life... I can't enjoy it."
She likens that fateful night to a ripple, with the way that a single bullet ripped through her entire circle of family and friends.
"It affects the whole family. That's what people realize when they take a life. They're thinking they're just taking that life, but you're not. You're taking other people's too, because life will never be the same for them either. Even though they're still mentally and physically here, you've ripped apart a whole family."
In the year since Italia was killed, Sharon says it's been a day-by-day healing process, filled with plenty of highs and lows alike.
But she says there was one defining moment that gave the entire family peace. When former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd - the very cause Italia had been out protesting the night she was shot.
"When the George Floyd case got done, it was almost a cheer for our family," said Sharon. "The family always says she didn't die in vain. So hopefully she's healing and knowing that what she was doing that night, even though she didn’t come home that night, it wasn't in vain. She got her justice, that she was doing the right thing. That's what helps us. And that was a victory for us when we heard the news."
When the guilty verdict was announced Sharon says the entire family was texting and calling each other, and her Facebook was blowing up with notifications from friends far and wide.
"And we were just excited and the first thing everybody was posting on Facebook, all her friends, was Italia you did it. You aren't here. But we did it."
Just a few days after the one year mark of Italia's death, Davenport's mayor and police chief announced a new task force, aimed at stopping violent gun crimes by targeting the root causes.
Sharon says she's glad to see steps taken, but is skeptical on how much of a difference it can make.
"The gun violence issue here in the Quad Cities is real. We need to wake up we need to take a stand. Because there's too mother many mothers grieving. There's too many people grieving loss of family members and these kids are getting younger and younger that are passing. We need to figure out something for Davenport before Davenport gets any worse than it is. And Davenport at this point is pretty bad."
On Tuesday, Davenport's police revealed that 2020 had an all-time high in shootings, at 279. They also said 2021 was keeping pace.
"And the senselessness of these crimes that are happening around here for no reason. That's what all boils down to is their purposeless - these crimes. And we're losing our loved ones over it. That's the hard part," said Sharon.
She has a tattoo on her forearm. It has black text reading, 'I'll carry you with me until we meet again Italia' and is flanked by a red cardinal on one side and a sunflower on the other - bright yellow, Italia's favorite flower and color.
Sharon and her family believe cardinals are a sign that Italia is still watching over them. And she says in the past year she's seen more cardinals around her than ever before.