Boy who wrote to Tennessee governor concerned about gun law killed on Christmas by stray bullet

A Tennessee boy who wrote to the governor about the dangers of a new law allowing anyone over 21 to carry a handgun without training or a permit was killed by a stray bullet on Christmas morning.

The projectile blasted through the wall of the home that Artemis Rayford shared with his mother and 6-year-old sister as he played with his new video game – and then pierced his chest.

Artemis Rayford
Artemis Rayford (

The boy leaped up and cried, “Momma!” then collapsed as she caught him, his older sister, Doneisha Eddings, told WJHL-TV. He died in his mother’s arms.

“When he got shot, the only thing he could do was run to his mama,” Artemis’s grandmother, Joyce Newson, 65, told WREG-TV. “It took her two days to wash the blood off her hands.”

A few days before Artemis’ Jan. 8 funeral, his teacher sent his family a photograph of the letter he had written to Gov. Bill Lee. After introducing himself as a middle-school student, he said, “it is my opinion that this new law will be bad and people will be murdered.”

He had been discussing the law in a program designed to steer children away from gang activity and violence as part of the Memphis Police Department’s Gang Resistance Education and Training program.

Newson told The Washington Post she hoped the governor would learn of the letter, if he hadn’t already. It was not clear whether it had been sent, or whether Lee had seen it. She had doubts about whether the tragedy would be addressed.

“The governor hasn’t reached out,” Newson told The Washington Post. “That’s why it’s only going to be thrown up under the rug.”

Last year, Lee had pushed back against critics of the law, who included Memphis Police and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

“We can protect law enforcement; we can protect our citizens, and we can protect the Second Amendment all at the same time,” Lee said last year, according to WREG-TV.

The shattered family, meanwhile, is struggling to come to grips with the absence of the boisterous boy who bore the nickname “Shun.”

“He was a kind, sweet and innocent little boy, and he loved dancing,” Eddings told WREG. “I never saw him mad or angry. He was just full of joy, full of life.”

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