Suzanne Kelley never planned to become an activist.
The Washington resident was content working as a certified nursing assistant, helping to care for her granddaughter, and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But everything changed on Father’s Day, June 16, 2013, when her brother-in-law, Vinnie “Mystro” Kelley, was shot and killed while attempting to stop a robbery at Citizens Bank in Giant Eagle, South Strabane Township.
Kelley pursued the robber, and was shot after he jumped inside the car as the robber made his getaway.
The shooter has never been found.
The devastating loss of Mystro Kelly, who Suzanne Kelley described as “a great guy, the nicest guy who was funny and loved kids,” set her on the path to activism.
Kelley is president of Mystro’s Movement for Victims of Violent Crimes, a nonprofit organization aimed at raising awareness about violent crimes.
She serves as vice president of the Crime Victims Memorial Garden of Washington County, and volunteers with CASA for Kids – which trains community volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children in the state juvenile court system – and the NAACP Washington Branch.
For her tireless work in the community to raise awareness about violent crimes and to help others who have experienced loss, Kelley has been selected as the Observer-Reporter’s ExtraORdinary Person for the month of November.
The award is underwritten by Washington Auto Mall, which will make a $500 donation to Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania in Kelley’s name.
“I never thought I’d do any of this,” said Kelley. “It’s made me a better person. When it first happened, I was just really angry, really mad. I was bitter for a while, and then I said, ‘You know what? We’ve got to do something.’”
And she has. In the six years since Mystro’s murder, Kelley’s battle for justice for Mystro and for an end to violence has become a driving force for her.
Mystro’s Movement has organized large events such as Community Unites, in which the nonprofit partnered with Harmony Life Center and Washington County United to memorialize victims of violent crimes and raise awareness about issues including addiction and racism.
She has coordinated backpack-filling events to benefit children in need of backpacks and supplies for school, participated in community cleanup days, taken part in walks in support of domestic violence services and other organizations, and donated money to other nonprofits such as Coats for Kids.
Mystro’s Movement holds an annual bike run to raise money to finance its efforts and to donate proceeds to different causes such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for childhood cancer.
Alexandra Brooks, prevention education coordinator for Domestic Violence Services for Southwestern Pennsylvania, said Kelley “has been an amazing advocate for Domestic Violence.”
“The best way to describe her is passionate,” said Brooks. “It takes a lot of energy to do the work she does, to organize and run community violence events to try to stop violence in the community. You have a choice to make when something like what happened to her brother-in-law happens. You can be angry, or you can make a difference in your community, and she has chosen to make her community better.”
For Kelley, the most impactful part of her work to reduce violence has been the opportunity to meet and support others who have lost loved ones because of violent crime.
“I’ve met so many families, and I understand what they’re going through. Being there for them makes me feel better,” citing, for example, when she and other Mystro’s Movement members sat with the family of Karissa Kunco, who was killed by her boyfriend on Jan. 12, 2012, during the two-week trial.
Mystro’s Movement also donates to funeral expenses for victims killed in violent crimes.
Kelley finds comfort, too, at the Memorial Garden, created in an area behind the Washington County Courthouse as a place for families to seek peace and healing, and to reflect.
The garden now holds more than 150 stones bearing the names of those claimed by violence.
Kelley also has coordinated a banner with the pictures of 47 victims of violence, which is displayed at various ceremonies and events.
“So many of us who have lost someone to violence have all gotten to know each other very well. Everybody is a big family. Tragedy brought us together,” said Kelley. “I don’t like the way we’re brought together, but we’re family now.” Kelley doesn’t want future generations to have to keep dealing with gun and other violence
“You can’t go to church, you can’t go to the grocery store, you can’t go to school without some type of gun violence going on. It’s just crazy.”
She hopes the programs she spearheads can inspire children and teens to make positive choices.
Kelley described an Erase Hate challenge Mystro’s Movement held. A dozen members of the group, wearing Erase Hate T-shirts, stood on the courthouse steps, blindfolded, as people approached them and hugged them.
“We didn’t know if they were black or white, we didn’t know who they were. We just wanted to show people there are other things besides just hating each other and doing bad things to people, because you affect people’s lives when you takes someone’s loved one away from them,” said Kelley. “I just want people to start thinking what the consequences are before they do something. You can’t just keep going out being hateful to people. You can’t use a gun for everything,” said Kelley.
Kelley said she and her husband, John’s, family want Mystro’s killer to be found. There is still a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in her brother-in-law’s murder.
But, the mother of four and grandmother of five – who now finds it easy to talk to large groups, politicians, and people from all walks of life – said she will continue her advocacy, even if Mystro’s killer is brought to justice.
She has been recognized for her community service by various organizations, including Zonta Club of Washington County. “It’s nice to get recognized, but I just want to make it better so people don’t have to go through what we’ve gone through,” said Kelley. “I have faith in God that one day something will happen and the guy who did that to Mystro will be found. Even when they do, I’m still going to be involved in all of these things. I’ll probably never stop doing this.”