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Mother of 16-year-old girl killed in Great Mills shooting reflects, one year later

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It's been nearly a year, yet for a family in St. Mary's County, the pain is still fresh. 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey died last March, when a gunman sought her out in the hallways of Great Mills High School.

Since then, her heartbroken mother has seldom spoken about what happened. But as the anniversary of her daughter's death draws near, Melissa Willey feels it's important to share her story. Jaelynn's story.

"These kids should not be afraid to go to school or to have to think about, you know, what if I get shot at school and I don't get to go home," said Melissa Willey.

She sat down with ABC 7 inside a classroom at Great Mills High School, despite the painful memories . Hand-painted rocks near the entrance to the school bear Jaelynn's name. Another rock is painted with the words ‘Wounds Only Heal Over Time’. That’s something Willey knows to be true.

"It's not easy to come here," she said. "I have to though."

That's because Willey has eight other children, who are either current or future students at Great Mills.

In fact, her oldest son was inside the school on the day his sister was shot.

"Cameron called and said they were on lockdown," said Willey. "And I asked if he could get a hold of Jaelynn and he said he hadn't yet, and I said I couldn't either."

That was March 20, 2018. The day her life and her family changed forever.

Willey would soon learn that 16-year-old Jaelynn had been shot in a hallway and critically injured. Authorities have said the gunman was a 17-year-old classmate who Jaelynn had briefly dated.

"I figured it out when we were sitting at the hospital. And I had said to someone sitting next to me, 'Oh my god I hope this wasn't him that did this'. And within 40 minutes of me saying that, we found out it was him that did that. And I was just, so angry," she said.

Willey said she wants people to know that her daughter was never in a long-term relationship with the teen who took her life.

"It was a few dates, that was it.," said Willey. "Somebody asked her to prom on February 13. He asked her to prom on February 14, and she said no. But she had already told him she didn't want to date him anymore. And that should've been it."

For that reason and so many others, Willey says what happened that day will never make sense to her.

Police say the gunman took his own life when confronted by a school resource officer just moments after the shooting. As for Jaelynn, she was left brain dead, and taken off life support two days later.

"I think the biggest thing is I always feel like I'm missing something, like there's always - someone's not there," said Willey.

Willey, her husband, and Jaelynn’s eight brothers and sisters have tried to focus on the many happy memories shared with Jaelynn.

Willey’s phone is filled with photos of her smiling, happy daughter. She wears a necklace around her neck that bears Jaelynn's name and her photo. Oftentimes, Willey and the kids will spend time at Leonardtown Wharf Park, because it was one of Jaelynn's very favorite places.

"We talk about Jaelynn all the time," she said. "My necklace, the younger kids kiss my necklace several times a day."

And when Time Magazine reached out to her in the fall, Willey says her children, Jaelynn included, were her motivation in agreeing to the interview about a subject that’s still difficult to talk about.

Willey was one of seven parents featured on the cover of a special issue: moms and dads forever connected because they all lost a child in a school shooting. (LINK: http://time.com/longform/school-shooting-parents/ )

"It seems like it happens, everyone is sorry that it happens, you move on, and the next one happens. And then it happens again," she said.

Though she knows there is no simple answer, Willey feels it's her duty to keep the conversation going.

"It's just very accepted, and it shouldn't be," she said. "It shouldn't happen at school. It shouldn't happen anywhere."

Jaelynn Willey would have turn 17-years-old in February. Instead, March will mark the first anniversary of her death.

"It's been a long year," said Willey. "She was just a sweet, sweet girl."

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