After Cousin's 2013 Shooting Death, Ex-WNBA Star Devereaux Peters Says Advocacy Is 'Empowering'

It took years for Devereaux Peters to deal with the pain of losing her cousin to gun violence.

In May 2013, while living in Minneapolis and playing for the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, she received a call from her mother in the middle of the night.

At first, she ignored it, but then her mother called again. "Anytime somebody double-calls you, it's usually an emergency," she recalls.

Peters' cousin JoJo, who she describes as her biggest fan, was in Baltimore hanging out with friends at their home when the house got robbed.

When JoJo got up to leave, one of the robbers fatally shot him in the back, Peters recalls. "My family was devastated."

Despite the tragic news, Peters went to practice the following day.

"I didn't know how to process that information yet and I still couldn't understand what was going on," she says. "And that's the only way I felt I could cope with it."

Since then, Peters connected with the nonprofit group Everytown for Gun Safety and co-founded the group's Athletic Council. The group allows victims to share their stories and helps them cope with the loss of loved ones to gun violence.

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On Jan. 19, Peters, now retired from the WNBA, sat down with three other professional athletes – Diontae Spencer, wide receiver for the NFL's Denver Broncos; Stedman Bailey, former wide receiver for the NFL's Los Angeles Rams; and DeAndre' Bembry, shooting guard for the NBA's Toronto Raptors – for an intimate conversation about their personal experiences with gun violence and how it's affected them.

RELATED: DeAndre' Bembry Was Drafted into NBA a Week After Brother's Killing, Now Honors Him 'Every Day'

Nearly 40,000 Americans are killed with guns every year in America – and approximately 85,000 more are shot and wounded, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

PEOPLE partnered with Everytown for Gun Safety for a roundtable discussion with members of Everytown Athletic Council for National Gun Violence Survivors Week, which ends Feb. 7.

Peters says she feels empowered by speaking out about her journey through loss and grief.

"It's, honestly, like this empowering feeling knowing that you're not alone and that there is a lot of support," she says.

"We see so much gun violence that you can almost become numb to it. It's all around us, but as overwhelming as it can seem, it's something that we individually can help change."

(Watch the full People Features: Gun Violence Survivor Athletes panel, streaming now on PeopleTV.com. The discussion was also featured on last Thursday's episode of PEOPLE: (The TV Show!)

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