Well, on the night of August 4, 2019, I was out enjoying the night with my father, Derrick Fudge, at a popular nightclub district in downtown Dayton, Ohio, called the Oregon District. A young male came down the side of the building firing a AR-15 weapon, killing my father beside me and eight other innocent lives. I was performing CPR, trying to save my dad’s life; the shooter was still on the street, shooting, until the police took him down. I still cannot believe that I did not die that night, but instead my father died for me, shielding the bullets that could have been for me.
My niece Sandy, whom I helped raise under my own umbrella, went to the beach. Isn’t the sun always supposed to be shining at the beach? She and her cousins wanted to watch the motorcycle parades. They were young, beautiful and, they figured, invincible. A little bit of rain and the thunder surrounding one fight on the beach was not supposed to quickly and without warning turn into a devastating tsunami. Lightning strike! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Sandy PaTrice Geddis Barnwell was running for cover, but the lightning struck her in the forehead. The forecast was the darkest that I ever received when the coroner informed me that the storm had casualties that and my Lovely, my sister’s ONLY child, was not coming home—ever again. No one expected lightning on the beach. Four young people having fun in the sand and sun, partying with no cares, shot down. One young man shot five times and still struggling with the injuries. Two young men killed. My Sandy forever taken in senseless gun violence. The sun is still not shining on my sister.
Chris was the most alive person I had ever met. Being the recipient of his smile was like being in the sun. A streetwise New York kid complete with the accent, he found a home in Orlando. He loved talking to people and hearing their stories.
His laughter was infectious beyond belief. In one of the best days of my life, we went to see a “B-movie” called Grindhouse. He laughed out loud, so hard, at every joke that within 10 minutes, the entire theater was in hysterics. Soon, everyone was just waiting for him to laugh, not caring about the movie at all.
Chris was at Pulse nightclub the night of the terror attack. He saved two lives that night pushing strangers over the back fence before escaping himself. Three months to the day later, he died of a brain aneurysm, no doubt related to the trauma and stress he went through. I never realized that a bullet can kill you without hitting you.
His love and laughter lives on in the hearts of all who knew him, but we miss him every single day. Chris, we love you.
My life was forever changed on the night of July 12, 2012, during the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” The perpetrator entered the movie theater carrying a AR-15 pump-action shotgun and two hand pistols. Thus began the worst night, killing 12 and severely injuring 58 others, including myself.
I lost my left leg and nearly my right arm from the senseless shooting and incurred many other physical and mental injuries. I am forever changed from this horrific act, and I hope sharing my story can make changes for other trauma victims.
My father, Chris Hixon, was killed while trying to confront the shooter during the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. He was a Navy veteran and the first person to respond to the sound of gunfire. He simply wanted to help the students he mentored and loved.
His murder forever impacted my family and gave us a new focus on ensuring our experience doesn’t happen to anyone else. I will continue to honor his legacy while also ensuring gun violence and suicide are no longer a pandemic in this country. As a Marine Corps veteran, I am honored to be able to aid in this goal by serving on Everytown’s Veterans Advisory Council.
My life has been touched many times by gun violence.
I started exhibiting depression and harboring suicidal thoughts around age 11, but my father’s collection of firearms were never an option for me. He believed in safe storage and kept them locked away. I don’t know where he kept the key, but if I’d had access to a firearm in middle school, I wouldn’t be alive today.
When I was in high school, I lost a close friend to gun suicide exactly one year before the Virginia Tech massacre. Each year, as Virginia mourns those victims, Sam’s friends revisit our trauma of losing him. For years, depression pulled me deep during the week surrounding that day, as I relived that loss over and over. Through my advocacy, though, I have been able to use my experience for good in Virginia.
I woke up the morning of my birthday in 2015 and turned on the news, as usual. I didn’t expect to watch two newspeople, Alison Parker and Adam Ward, be murdered on live television by a disgruntled former coworker with a gun. I celebrate my birthday with both of them on my mind and in my heart.
I’m one of the lucky ones.
I wasn’t killed, wounded or shot at.
I was in Germany, waiting to fly home.
Then, my wife’s text: “In case you hear…we are in lockdown…shooting in our school is real…I am fine…I have 18 kids locked in a closet along with Mary Ann and Cindy.”
I called my son. He raced to the scene. Did Mom survive?
He located her and notified me: “Dawn is dead.” “School psychiatrist shot.” “Two classes of kids are dead.”
I didn’t hear gunshots, screams, breaking glass or police running across the roof. Didn’t smell the gunpowder. Didn’t see the kids’ faces as they hid or the parents at the firehouse awaiting word on their missing children. I didn’t lose 26 people I knew extremely well. Even so, my life would never be the same.
There are millions like me, surrounding and supporting those at the epicenter as best we can, when they relive unspeakable, traumatic memories.
We’re survivors too—just in a different way.
Eight years later, Sandy Hook’s impact remains. Seeing a young child, the word “trigger,” watching “open carry” demonstrations. Indescribable, heart-wrenching sadness.
But, based on what many others went through that day, I actually was one of the lucky ones.
November 15, 2015. My birthday weekend. My dad, mom, sister and I are having an “adventure weekend,” open to possibilities, no expectations, just fun. My grandfather spent years living near the Salton Sea, and having heard many stories about him, I wanted to see the place for myself. Dad’s happy, but pensive. I photographed him as he walked along the water. Was he thinking about his dad?
November 25. I returned home to stay with my parents for the entire Thanksgiving holiday and weekend. It’s wonderful. Typically Dad and I’d visit his sister up north this weekend, but she’s ill, so we stay local. It turns out to be a blessing. We have five whole days together, eating, watching movies, having intense philosophical conversations, laughing, rearranging furniture, and picking out a Christmas tree. I go home on Monday, happy.
On Wednesday, December 2, Mom calls me at work. I answer immediately. She’s been sick; I want to make sure she’s okay.
“Do you see the news?” she asks.
I had seen online that there was a big shooting in San Bernardino. “Another one?” I’d thought, incredulously.
“Yes, I saw,” I reply.
“Your father is in that building, and I can’t get hold of him.”
I remember every second of that conversation and the ones that followed as I raced home—the desperate calls to hospitals to find out if he was there; to police; to information hotlines; to family members, telling them what was happening.
I remember watching each survivor depart the buses at the reunification center, looking for my dad, hoping in some strange way I’d see his hat, though I knew he wouldn’t wear it to work.
Dad never came home. He was killed that day, along with 13 coworkers. Another coworker and his wife declared allegiance to a terrorist organization, and shot my dad five times. He died within seconds.
It still hurts, every day. I am not the same person I was before December 2. But I am forever grateful for the time we had together, and I will always cherish our memories, especially those we made in those last few weeks.
On October 27, 2018, while canvassing in Arizona for gun sense candidates for the upcoming general election, I received a call from my son in Pittsburgh. There was a mass shooting in progress there, at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and his great Aunt Rosie and cousin Andrea were inside. It wasn’t until later in the evening that we learned that Rosie and 10 other worshipers were killed and Andrea wounded. My children’s spry 97-year-old aunt was murdered, and their cousin wounded, in what was now the deadliest attack on a Jewish community in America.
Rose Mallinger, a mother of three, a grandmother and great-grandmother, was now dead—simply because she was practicing her faith in our country, where the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. This was just another senseless act of gun violence fueled by hatred, not unlike the all-too-often massacres of school children, in the LBGTQ community, and in communities of different races, colors and religions.
My son, Brandon D. Williams, left home one evening on June 23, 2019. He was murdered in a mass shooting outside Kelly’s Pub in South Bend, Indiana, while attending a birthday party. Eleven people were shot that night; my son took the fatal shot to the head.
People ask me how I felt about my child being the only one who did not survive. The Lord spoke to me and said, “If it wasn’t your child, then which person should it have been?” I never questioned it again because I would not want anyone to wear these shoes that I’m now walking in.
I didn’t see Brandon again after that night, until the day before his funeral. I was not allowed to go into the hospital (ER) for hours due to the number of victims from the shootings. I couldn’t hold him or touch him to tell him I love him or just say goodbye.
I will never see my son on this Earth again. Yet I have hope that one day we will be together again.