Posted on Friday, 01.16.09 and appearing on the front page
of The Miami Herald Metro&State section Saturday 01.17.09
ALEXIA FODERE/FOR THE MIAMI HERALD
TRYING TO COPE : In Morris Stein's bedroom, his mother,
Robin, is surrounded with the clothes and posters he liked best
Grieving mom campaigns for gun education
A year after her son's gunshot death, a grieving mother honors his memory with a campaign to teach young people firearms safety.
In the house where his mother cries for him and laughs about him and sits for hours at the computer watching her only child's image scroll by, Morris Stein is very much alive.
She listens to his voice, sees him move on cell-phone videos, lingers over his Facebook page. Frame by frame -- as a toddler, a Little Leaguer, a bar Mitzvah boy and high-school graduate -- he matures in hundreds of archived snapshots.
Often, there's a dog involved -- one of many strays that Morris saved from the streets. Just as often, Joey's in the picture too: his best friend since age 8.
On Jan. 17, 2008 -- one year ago today -- that friendship ended with an apparently accidental shotgun blast in the apartment that Morris, a Tallahassee Community College freshmen, shared with Joey and a third roommate.
Now the ashes of Morris Scott Stein, 19, lie in a wooden box. Joey Macdougall, 19, faces trial on one count of manslaughter with a firearm.
Back home in Aventura, he declined to be interviewed.
Robin Stein , 47, of Northeast Miami-Dade County , struggles to go on without her son. Sobbing, she asks: ``Am I even still a mother...? He was my rock.''
Stein owns a company called Accentricitees which markets inspirational-message t-shirts. But in the past year, she's done little business, focusing instead on the MoSt Foundation, started in her son's memory: themostfoundation.org .
Taken from the first two letters of his first and last names, it reflects Morris's passions -- and his mother's determination to spare other parents her agony.
Its broad mission: ``to make the world we live in a better place by encouraging individual responsibility and fostering awareness of ways to take responsibility.''
Specifically, it seeks to ''do the MoSt (sic) for the environment, for animal rescue, for tolerance and diversity, for gun safety'' -- the last being Robin Stein 's reluctant obsession.
She knows that gun control is an issue far beyond her ability to influence, but she's convinced that gun-safety courses, especially for teenagers, can avert tragedies such as the one that forever changed two families.
The foundation is circulating an online petition -- about 440 people have signed -- asking for mandatory safety training that Stein plans to send to President-elect Barack Obama after he's sworn in on Tuesday.
It begins: ``To allow kids to handle long guns with no prior exposure or experience is not what the 2nd Amendment intended. In today's world, boys are coming of age thinking gun ownership is not just a right, but a necessary component to manhood. Shouldn't they be taught responsibility and possibility instead of simply gaining access to something with the power to ruin their lives as well as the lives of everyone else involved?''
''People who don't have bad intent should at least be taught how to handle guns,'' Stein said. ``You don't let [teens] behind the wheel without knowing how to drive...This is not about taking people's rights; it's about keeping people safe.''
Morris Stein bought a gun after graduating from Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School. It was a choice more whimsical than ominous: an antique French rifle.
''I'm allowed to have a long gun,'' he told his mother. ``I'm an American citizen...No one knows where the clip is but me.''
Still, when he showed it to her on Jan. 1, she was stunned and confused: ``There was no need for it.''
Her son was so responsible, so steady, so grounded -- ''this amazing kid who could handle anything'' -- that Robin Stein trusted his assurances.
''Be so careful,'' she told him. ``You're all I've got.''
She didn't know that Joey owned a 12-gauge shotgun: the weapon implicated in her son's death.
''Joey didn't lock the gun, and he accidentally hit the trigger when Morris was coming around the corner,'' said a close friend in Tallahassee , who asked not to be named.
Another friend, FIU student Alana Sultan, said that Morris's last words to Joey were, ``Don't worry; it's just my shoulder.''
She said that had he lived, there's no question he would have forgiven his friend.
''In my in 20 years on this earth, I never met a person like Morris,'' she said. ``Every act was selfless. He never put himself before anyone else ... He could never hold a grudge.''
She called him ``the perfect kid. He didn't litter...He looked at animals as not any different than humans. They were living beings, and if he could help, he would.''
On Saturday, Robin Stein 's house is sure to be mobbed with Morris's friends. They converged as soon as they heard of his death, crowded his funeral, held backyard vigils, dropped by on Sept. 22 for his birthday.
They've sent Mother's Day and Valentine's Day flowers, done artwork around his fingerprint and held sporting events in his memory. Some have been tattooed with his name.
Neighbors planted a memorial garden in her backyard, and the 2008 Krop yearbook gives him a whole page.
Ian Fels, a lifelong friend, said that Morris ``was always a leader. He always did what he thought was right and everyone looked up to him.''
He was inclusive and fair-minded, the glue that held diverse groups together.
''Morris was an adult living in a kid's body,'' said Fels, a sophomore at Trinity College in Connecticut . ''He cared about things that kids don't think about,'' like animal rights and the environment.
When a friend ''came out'' in high school, some kids shunned him, but Morris ''stood up for him,'' Fels said.
''In a weird way [his memory] makes you want to do positive things,'' he said.
Most of the friends support Joey Macdougall. He has visited Robin, and they talk on the phone.
''Morris loved Joey,'' she said. ``I know Joey loved him and they shared everything.''
She has no desire to see him behind bars. When the Leon County prosecutor handling the case called to explain that Joey faced 15 years in prison, she said, ``What sense is that? Maybe community control and community service and probation, but jail time for this child is unnecessary and ridiculous. Even a trial is a waste of money...Obviously this is the biggest consequence he could ever have.''
And yet, she said, ``part of me wants to know what happened.''
The shooting occurred about 5:30 p.m. Nearly four hours later, Robin Stein was getting ready for bed.
The doorbell rang. She looked out the window and saw two police officers. They told her that someone was trying to find her, then handed her a piece of paper with two phone numbers for police headquarters in Tallahassee on it.
More puzzled than panicked, she wondered: Had Morris been in an accident? A fight?
A victim advocate came on the line.
''Your son is dead,'' she told Robin Stein . ``There was a shooting in his apartment and he died at 7:17 . His roommates are being questioned.''
Somehow, she got herself on a plane the next morning.
''It kills me Morris was alone in the ambulance and alone at the hospital,'' she said. ``When I focus on that, I can't stand up.''
As soon as the door to Morris's red-and-orange room opens, the dogs leap on his bed, snuggling into the pillows. His favorite size 11 Timberland boots sit in the closet.
Posters on his wall: Martin Luther King with Malcom X. Bob Marley. Snoop Dogg. ''Save the planet'' in tie-dye lettering.
Even as a child, Morris was uncommonly sensitive about race. Group photos of his friends at every age are rainbow coalitions.
In a 2006 essay, he wrote: 'When I was younger, I once drew the classic smiley face with all the colors of the rainbow inside and under I wrote the word `colorblind.' That shirt got a whole lot of use and if I wasn't a couple feet taller these days, it would still be part of my wardrobe.''
Robin Stein leans against the wall and lets out a sigh.
``He was just sweet, you know? I don't know how I was blessed to have him as long as I did.''
MEMORIAL: A brick at the Boward County
is a tribute to Morris Stein