Alicia Smith

I was a dancer at the University of Arizona when I was caught in the crossfire of a gang-related shooting. A bullet from an AK-47 ripped through my liver. Before the shooting, I was a vibrant, independent 21 year old. After, I was completely incapacitated. That trauma tortures every aspect of your life and leaves you feeling numb, helpless and dead inside.

After many dark years, I came to realize that I had a choice in how I was going to react to my situation. This would make me bitter or better.

I was able to find peace and forgiveness through the most extraordinary circumstances. It was a moment that would change the trajectory of my life.

My life is not what I had expected, but whose is? That initial gunshot wound left me with a less than 1 percent chance of survival, but I didn’t just survive – I thrived.

All the blessings in my life have been afforded to me through the very circumstances I thought destroyed me.

I now have a voice to speak on behalf of those who don’t get the opportunity to speak for themselves due to gun violence. I intend to be heard.

Vada Vasquez

On November 16, 2009, I was a victim of senseless gun violence. I was shot in the head by a stray bullet while waiting for the bus to go home from school. I remember waking up in a hospital, unable to move or speak. It’s been 10 years, and I am still in therapy. Some days I wish I died in that coma because I struggle every moment with PTSD, depression, disassociation disorder and seizures. I spent two weeks in a coma, then I learned that the bullet damaged the cognitive portion of my brain so I had to relearn everything. I went from being a high school student to having the mental ability of a kindergartner. Today I am still in college. I tried to make something of myself after my ordeal; I’ve managed to keep a job for eight years now, but I still do have my dark moments that force me to take a leave of absence. I will never give up on this life. No matter how bad it gets. My name is Vada Vasquez, and I am a Gun Violence Survivor.

Leslie Anne washington

This week marks National Gun Violence Survivors Week. Countless people are sharing their stories and fighting for real action to end gun violence. And although I will never get back nine years I lost in my abusive relationship, or more memories of sitting at Grandma’s house for hours with my cousin, I will fight for common sense gun safety laws that can prevent other families from experiencing the same pain as mine and other survivors’. I will continue to do everything in my power to end gun violence. In 2015, I watched alongside my family as the police could not solve the murder of my cousin Keith, who was shot and killed. And in 1984, I cried when another cousin, Reginald, died by gun suicide. Our family still doesn’t have closure from their deaths. Gun violence needs to stop. It can be stopped. This is why I joined the Missouri chapter of Moms Demand Action — to fight gun violence of all types. Gun violence tears apart families everywhere. Gun violence is not just in Baltimore or New York or St. Louis. It is in rural parts of the country as well. Gun violence and domestic violence go together.


The day before spring break, there was an announcement over the PA that the doors would be locked and no one would be let out. I was in band, and we just continued playing, but I felt like something was wrong. Later, there was an announcement that the school was now on lockdown. A suspicious man was around/near/inside the building.

Ever since Parkland, I’ve had a steadily increasing fear of gun violence. The band room is one of the safest rooms in the school, due to the sheer amount of large objects that can be used as barricades, but I still was messaging my parents to tell them I loved them. I don’t remember how much time passed, but when the lockdown was over, I broke down and had my dad pick me up.

A few days later I was in D.C., on Capitol Hill, when an article popped up: The man who caused the lockdown had a gun in his car, and he was in the school building. What crossed my mind as I went through all of the security at the Capitol was: Why do politicians have so much protection, but students don’t?

Jeff H

My cousin Jeff was the coolest guy I knew. He was always someone I was in awe of when I was a little girl. The ladies loved him; he was a local sports star; he had tons of friends and a family who adored him. My dad was the one who told me he shot himself with his rifle. I still remember sitting in the front seat of my car when he told me. I couldn’t believe it. When I heard he survived, but the bullet was lodged in his throat, I couldn’t believe it. When my dad told me that if the bullet was removed, he would be either paralyzed or instantly dead, I couldn’t believe it. When he died 11 years later from an infection related to that bullet I. Could. Not. Believe. It.


On April 12, 2013, I went to work at New River Community College, having no idea that later that day I would be leaving in an ambulance with bullet wounds in my hand.

The gunman tried to shoot me six times but was unable to get the safety off his weapon. I was able to run and hide in a small room, and he shot me through the door. He came back and shot through the door again.

I live every day with the visual scars and physical pain that remind me of what happened, and the emotional trauma that reminds me it isn’t over yet. Eventually the media moves on and the cards stop coming, but survivors live every day with the effects of gun violence

I’m thankful to have survived the worst day of my life — and to be able to use my voice and my story to fight for better gun laws and to advocate for victims so that we can get the help we need.

It’s easy to look away from the effects of gun violence if you’ve never personally experienced it. Always remember that if gun violence is your neighbor’s problem, it’s your problem too.

Patrick Deel

National Gun Violence Survivors Week coincidentally falls at the same time as the date I was shot. On February 7, 1991, I reported for work for what I anticipated to be another quiet day at the hotel. Shortly into my shift, a man entered the lobby with a gun and proceeded to shoot me (twice) and two other individuals.

I wish I could put into words how my life has changed since then. Twenty-nine years later, I wish I knew what life could be like without the enduring PTSD and memories of that day. The experience that day was surreal. I couldn’t believe what was happening as it was happening. I don’t remember what life was like before being a gun violence survivor, to be able to say how my life has changed.

I did survive, and the outpouring of support from my family and friends was overwhelming during that time and in the time since. As more and more Americans live life as survivors of first or secondhand gun violence, that support is key to our ultimate, collective survival.

Debi B.

In January 2017, I was shot through my back with a bullet from a drive-by shooting. I was at an all-ages concert at a local venue in Seattle with my 12-year-old son who would have been killed if he had not moved from the spot where he was sitting 10 minutes before. There was a bullet hole in the spot where he was sitting.

I was one out of three victims; the other two had minor injuries. I was hospitalized for two weeks. The recovery was so painful and took me so long. I had a relapse in November 2017 from complications and had to re-live the same surgery over again. The amount of pain, sadness and fear I felt as I was healing is an unexplainable, overwhelming feeling that I would never want anyone to ever have to feel and go through. Not only did it take forever to heal physically, but I am still trying to heal mentally, three years later. Three years of therapy each week for myself and another separate, weekly therapy for my son who now suffers from PTSD and anxiety. We are still healing.

Rachel Vanisi

I am a survivor of domestic abuse and gun violence. I live with the trauma every single day. R and I fell in love fast. It had only been a week of living there when he pulled out the first gun in the middle of an argument. The relationship turned physically abusive overnight. The guns were out all the time. I was a world of crisis. I stayed. I came back. Over and over. My sister gave birth to her first child, and I was crushed that I didn’t make it. The bruises on my face were so bad; I couldn’t cover them with makeup. R’s hopelessness and depression only became worse. The abuse became worse. He had premeditated plans of how he would kill himself and anyone who got in the way. I called the police three times, and the SWAT team came but once. They would leave, and they would leave the guns. Five years ago, R shot his grandma’s boyfriend in an argument and then shot himself. He carried out the exact premeditated plan we were all made aware of. R was sick. He kept his guns in his room right next to the bed.

Sheila Lowe

On February 19, 2000, my daughter, Jennifer, became the victim in a murder-suicide. Her boyfriend, Tom Schnaible, shot her eight times as she ran away from him. He was a federal agent who knew how to kill.

What I have learned from this unspeakable experience is that there is life after death. Jennifer continues to play a big part in my life from spirit.

This year is the 20th anniversary, and not much has improved in gun violence. Yet, we must never give up working to make things better so that other parents and and grandchildren, children and friends won’t have to learn about grief the hard way.