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KSDK – An Illinois mom knows all too well the pain that the families of the Santa Barbara shooting victims are going through.

She lost her daughter to a school shooting. But she has since been able to turn her grief into a cause.

Five years ago, a mass shooter killed Ryanne Mace and four other students on Valentine's Day at Northern Illinois University.

Ryanne's picture is on every bare space in her parent's house. She was only 19 when she died.

People tell Mary Kay Mace that they can't imagine losing an only child.

"There's a dull ache that's always there," she said. "I still have a sight or smell or a song comes on the radio, and I'll burst into tears.

"It happens now with every mass shooting that happens."

The man who killed Ryanne was discharged from the army and had a history of mental illness. The Navy Yard shooter was a reservist. He thought electromagnetic waves controlled him. And the Santa Barbara shooter wrote a 144-page manifesto about feeling rejected and lonely.

More than 200 mass killings have happened in the U.S. since 2006. Most of the shooters – like Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter – got their guns legally.

Mary Kay has become a passionate advocate in the years since her daughter's death.

"It's frightening to me that nobody is learning the lesson that a lot of us learned the hard way," she said. "It can happen anywhere, it can happen to anybody."

She's lobbied lawmakers, and the president. She talks to whoever will listen.

"Our background check is porous to begin with, and then there are ways to get guns by circumventing and getting them by going to gun shows or online sales or private sales," she said.

She lives and breathes the call to action.

"It's the way I've chosen to honor Ryanne's memory, is to try to do what I can to prevent other people from going through what my husband and I have gone through," Mary Kay said.

Mary Kay will never see Ryanne become a psychologist. Or get married. Or have children.

She'll never forget the five minutes on a Valentine's Day when a mentally ill man took the life of a girl who wanted to change the world.

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