RICHMOND, Va. -- In the days after Tracey Ruffin's son Lakeith Ruffin, Jr., was killed in a shooting, she's been looking back at some of her favorite memories and photographs of him.
“He had swag at such an early age," Tracey said. "He had such a charisma about himself.”
Tracey said Ruffin started making his mark ever since she could remember as a teammate, honors student, homecoming king, a brother and a child.
“He was always just a ray of sunshine," Tracey said. “When I just think of his name and I see his face, it’s always a smile. He wanted to see the good in everybody."
Now, it's a smile she'll only see again through snapshots in time.
Over the weekend, after coming back home from a trip, Tracey said she received a terrifying phone call from her husband.
“He's like, 'get up, and come to the emergency room,'" Tracey recalled. "'LaKeith has been shot.'”
Moments later, as Tracey was about to walk out the door and head to the hospital, her husband had a gut-wrenching update.
“He was like, 'well never mind. He's gone, Tracy.' And I said, 'What do you mean he's gone?' He said, 'He passed away. He died.' I just dropped to the floor in that moment," Tracey said.
According to Richmond Police, the shooting happened late Sunday night, just days after Ruffin's 30th birthday, on North 19th street in Shockoe Bottom. It marked one of the city's 14 gun-related homicides of 2022 so far. That number represents a 29% increase from the same time period last year.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Mayor Levar Stoney repeated that fixing Richmond's growing gun violence crisis can't happen overnight, but he assured new prevention measures are in the process of being implemented.
“I wish I could tell someone, tell that mother, that tomorrow, there will be no more gun violence," the mayor said. "But I can't honestly go to someone and say that."
In February, Mayor Stoney announced the first phase of the city's gun violence prevention efforts created from federal funding and he provided an update Wednesday on where they stand.
- The city is distributing $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to youth-focused groups such as out-of-school-time programming, parenting support, mental health support, academic enrichment, and mentorship.
- The city is working with partners to find a third party to implement a gun buyback program that would aim to reduce the number of firearms on the streets. The summer said he hopes to have the program launched at the beginning of the summer.
- The city is working to post job descriptions on the city's website for violence interrupters to work with Richmond Police and target at-risk communities.
“We’re going to throw the money at this. We’re going to throw the kitchen sink at this," the mayor said.
Mayor Stoney also emphasized combating gun violence involves a community-wide effort. He explained illegal guns are inundating some of Richmond's neighborhoods, especially in the East End and Southside. While he pushes for stricter policy surrounding firearms at the state and federal level, he said police, social workers, human services staff and non-profits are doing everything they can.
"If you know someone who has an illegal weapon, someone who has a beef with someone in the streets, please reach out to the authorities to help us solve this before it ends up with someone losing their life," Mayor Stoney said.
As Tracey is flooded with condolences and support, she said knowing Ruffin spent his final days surrounded by love brings her comfort.
“He spent his last days with his family, so he wasn't alone," she said. "I know he called on Jesus to take him home.”
Tracey vowed to lean into her faith in God to get through a difficult time.
“I will see him again. We will meet again in Heaven," she said. "I'm going to live out my last days in peace because that's what my son believed in."