Mother who lost daughter in Virginia Tech carries on legacy with nonprofit

WASHINGTON – Celeste Peterson’s eyes will twinkle and seconds later brim with tears as she remembers her fiercely compassionate daughter, Erin.

“I had one of her friends tell me she made the Virginia Tech campus seem small. Because no matter where you were on campus, if she were walking across and saw you, she’d make sure she greeted you.”

Peterson says her daughter, who stood 6 feet tall, was known for more than her imposing stature. She was known for her big smile and bigger hugs.

On April 16 it will be six years since 27 students and 5 faculty members were killed in the largest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history. Erin was just 18, but in her mother’s words, “she had old folks’ wisdom.”

In the six years since Erin’s death, Celeste Peterson says she’s taken on a project Erin would have wanted her to do. She’s created a nonprofit organization dedicated to education.

Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting, has become a vocal advocate of universal background checks. He’s the assistant director of federal legislation for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Peterson hasn’t become active in lobbying for gun restrictions. She explains it this way: “That’s not my platform. Education is mine. I want to educate. I want us to help build a more inclusive environment because all inclusion is, is us learning how to treat each other, bottom line.”

But she adds, “I do think education and gun control dovetail well.”

The Erin Peterson Fund awards scholarships to student leaders and at-risk youth. In less than six years, the fund has raised more than $100,000 in scholarship money.

On Sunday, April 14, the Annual Erin Peterson Gospel Celebration of Life will be held at the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Centreville, Va., at 4 p.m.

On June 13, the Erin Peterson Fund Golf Tournament will be held at Westfield Golf Club.

For more information on the events, or how you can contribute, visit the Erin Peterson Fund website.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

Follow @KateRyanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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