Almost 30 years ago, 18-year-old Johnny Torpey was fatally shot during an attempted robbery while he was walking through the campus of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.
Johnny, the son of a Vietnamese woman and an American pilot, was adopted in 1975 by Mike and Marty Torpey, of Lower Township. Johnny’s birth mother thought he would be safer in America.
“She didn’t want him to grow up in Vietnam,” Marty Torpey said. “I always told him, ‘Your mother loved you so much that she wanted you to be safe.’”
But he wasn’t safe, and now the Torpeys are working to combat gun violence in the U.S. They’ve joined Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America-Atlantic/Cape May County, a nonpartisan group that advocates for stronger gun laws.
The group is gearing up for its second Jersey Shore Bridge Walk to End Gun Violence in June.
The Route 52 causeway will glow orange for the event, part of Wear Orange Weekend, a movement to advocate for gun violence prevention.
While gun violence is a national issue and the solutions are debated each time a mass shooting occurs, many New Jerseyans don’t think it’s a problem.
State Police recorded 73 shooting victims in New Jersey in April, nine of which were murders.
A recent poll found that while half of New Jersey residents are afraid of becoming a victim of gun violence, two-thirds believe it’s either a small problem or not a problem at all, according to the Rutgers Center on Gun Violence Research and the university’s Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.
But Marty Torpey, 72, disagreed — gun violence is a problem, she said, and it can be solved.
“It should be different,” she said. “This isn’t the way it should be. It can be different.”
Johnny, a freshman interested in studying physical therapy, was just a regular, happy American kid, said Mike Torpey, 73.
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While the couple has participated in marches against gun violence throughout the years, it was the February 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed, that “rang the bell,” Marty said. The mass shooting spurred the couple to act, she said, adding that gun violence “is so much worse now.”
They went to the Washington, D.C., March for Our Lives last year and plan on attending the bridge walk next month.
For retired teacher Janet Yunghans, 58, of Upper Township, the Parkland shooting was also a catalyst for her activism. She joined Moms Demand Action last year and became the membership lead.
“After Parkland, I said I can’t just write on Facebook for the umpteenth time how upset I am,” Yunghans said. “I have to do something. I can’t not be active.”
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Last year, about 100 people turned out for the march after three weeks of planning. This year, they hope to get closer to 500, Yunghans said. She’s also reaching out to officials to see if she can get two Ferris wheels on the Ocean City Boardwalk to glow orange for the event, too.
The goal is to bring awareness and to advocate for sensible gun laws while protecting the Second Amendment, the constitutional right to bear arms, she said.
“There is a way people can have their rights but protect the public as well,” she said, naming universal background checks as one of them. “We can’t not solve the problem of gun violence in America. If I sit back, I’m part of the problem.”