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‘It doesn’t get easier with time’: Smiths continue to move forward while honoring loved ones

Emily Smith-Lemmer gets black rose tattoo that honors both her father and brother killed in the 2016 Kalamazoo Shooting
Posted at 7:20 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 20:03:02-05

MICHIGAN — Emily Smith-Lemmer was relieved when she found the man who did her first tattoo back in 2016. That year, on Feb. 20, her dad, Rich, and brother, Tyler, were shot and killed while looking at vehicles at a car dealership in Kalamazoo. In the aftermath of the tragedy, she got ForeverStrong Daddy and Tyler tattooed onto her right forearm.

Last week, she had the same tattoo artist add some flowers to it.

“I love black roses, partially because it’s a symbol of death and grief,” Smith-Lemmer said during an interview at Mattawan High School, where she and Tyler went to school. “I love roses because of their thorns, you know, and they’re such a beautiful flower. It’s like even though there’s the pain, there’s also the flower.”

Smith-Lemmer said she’s still in shock and numb over the death of her father and brother. They were two of the six people killed during the shooting spree that night. Two others were injured and survived.

READ MORE: Kalamazoo shooting spree suspect charged with 6 murders

“It doesn’t get easier with time, and I think that’s the thing that I was hoping for the most is that it would,” Smith-Lemmer said after letting out a deep sigh. “Everyone kept saying, ‘Time heals, time heals.' That’s not the case. Unfortunately, that’s just something I think that I’m going to have to get used to is that each day gets harder and harder because it’s one more memory I make without them.”

Since the tragedy, Smith-Lemmer has gotten married, moved to the west coast, returned home to Michigan, and had a daughter. Her mother, Laurie Smith, joked that the now toddler is ‘3 going on 30.' However, whenever she sneezes, she reminds them of Rich, who used to do the same thing.

“She so funny,” Smith said while smiling. “We’ve told her, ‘Grandpa used to do that,' and she was very aware that grandpa and uncle TT are in heaven.”

Smith said the journey has been hard for her as well. She created the ForeverStrong Foundation in honor of all the victims. They’ve since held fests, galas, soccer tournaments and done several service projects around the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek area.

However, what’s gotten her through some of her hardest times is her faith in God.

“One thing that God’s working with me on is to realize that it’s okay to be happy after,” Smith said. “You know, everything’s before and after. And, I have felt guilty. I felt like I shouldn’t be happy, or if I do be happy then they’re not here to experience it with me. So, God’s really been working with me to say, 'It’s okay. It’s okay to be happy.'”

These days, Smith-Lemmer is finding her joy and comfort in working with dogs. She even created a business called Sit for Pets after becoming an official trainer.

“I got that after everything happened, and I love helping animals,” Smith-Lemmer said. “I love volunteering for shelters and stuff because I help animals that are innocent that have had cruel things happen to them, and it just...it helps me so much.”

Smith-Lemmer said she hopes to turn them into therapy dogs one day. In the meantime, she's focused on keeping her father and brother’s memory alive for her daughter and on adding more artwork to her arm.

“I love it,” Smith-Lemmer said while looking down at her tattoo. “I plan on doing quite a bit more to my grief sleeve, which sound a bit morbid, but I like it. It’s therapeutic.”

READ MORE: ‘Tomorrow is going to be better’: Nonprofit honors victims of Kalamazoo shooting

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