In December 2020, I was out in the yard with my dad early one Sunday afternoon. We heard shots fired nearby and later learned that there had been a drive-by shooting near the entrance to my neighborhood. No one was killed, but it was quite a shock that a shooting could happen in such a quiet neighborhood.
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 mind and life were completely changed one Sunday afternoon, when gunfire echoed through my neighborhood and blood was spilled in my literal front yard.
It’s impossible to prepare yourself for what it’s like to witness a murder. I never expected to be standing over the body of a stranger as he died from gunshot wounds. There’s simply no way to prepare for the trauma and turmoil that gun violence causes all of a sudden and in slow motion.
Since the day of the homicide, I’ve spent countless hours replaying the scene in my mind and wondering what I could have done differently to be a better help to the victim’s partner and children, who saw bullets rip through their dad’s flesh.
No one should die in this manner. I was forever changed by the bloodshed I witnessed, and our broken world often serves to remind me of the deep wounds I suffered, which are now scabs on my soul. Headlines or passing remarks or insensitive social media posts can scrape them open again, bringing rawness back to the surface. I am absolutely heartsick that our nation loses so many people to gun violence year after year.
I was driving down the road one day a few years ago, and an announcement came over the radio that someone had shot himself, his wife and their dogs. I thought I’d misheard the name until they said it again; it was a friend of mine. I was just astounded, to say the least. It just broke my heart.
I knew him through his first wife, one of my best friends. And I really liked him a lot: He was funny and delightful and creative and a good man. He held two fundraisers for a nonprofit that I ran. But he was also losing his profession, he had a history of depression and he was a recovering addict. I didn’t see much of that side of him, though—he hid it.
I called my friend immediately, and she was devastated because they’d remained friends. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I thought of myself as a gun violence survivor, though. But I am. I think about him and miss him terribly.
I was taking a walk at a nearby park when I heard sirens…too many for my small college town. When I tried to get back into my dorm, the door was locked. I was locked outside my school for an hour, wondering what happened. Eventually a classmate came by my hiding spot to tell me that someone had shot and killed at least three people at a factory close to the college. Some of the first responders were people I knew. It took them a long time to recover from what they’d seen.
I was 23 years old and working my third graveyard shift at an all-night diner in a beautiful college town out west. That night, one of the customers I’d been waiting on for hours shot and killed the janitor and injured another customer. I had refilled his coffee cup a dozen times without an inkling he was sitting there, killing time, waiting, stewing and plotting a shooting spree that ended with his death as well.
I have survivor’s guilt. I’ll never know why he waited until I was seated in a booth out of his sight before pulling out his gun. I remember visiting with the janitor at the counter for a few minutes, admiring pictures of his grandchildren, our backs to the man who would change everything for both of us. As for me, by the grace of all holy, I escaped on hands and knees, one last glance back at the shooter crouched behind a counter. I advocate for victims’ support, common-sense gun laws and improved mental health initiatives. And over the last 30 years, I’ve never once thought my life would be improved or safer by owning a gun.
I lost one of my best friends, Dominic Blackwell, to a school shooting. I was in the same area as the gunman and saw him shoot, fleeing as quickly as I could. Later that day, after hours of concern and chaos, I found out that he passed away.
Though that day has many details I can elaborate on, I want to celebrate the life Dominic lived. He was the kindest soul there could be. He lit up every room he walked into and was bound to make you smile. His mission in life was to bring happiness everywhere he went, and he succeeded. If he noticed a friend was down, he would set aside his own priorities to cheer them up. Not only was he kind, but he was the funniest person I’ve ever known. We have so many inside jokes that I often smile at, when I think back on them. The moments we spent in and outside of class were always filled with laughter. Always. His humor was like a super power; he would always leave you smiling. Dominic Blackwell was the kindest, funniest soul this world has ever been graced with. Fly high, Dominic.
When I was a junior in high school, I went to school on Valentine’s Day morning fretting about whether I should wear pink or red and if I would receive a carnation from one of my friends. By that afternoon, my entire outlook had changed. A single gunman entered my school and began shooting. My sister hid behind a computer cart, and I crouched between chairs as the gunshots became clear. We sat in silence on the phone with each parent because we were instructed to stay silent, but the family group chat was flooded with “I love yous” because we did not know if it would be our last chance. My sister and I made it out, but 17 of my classmates and teachers were not as lucky. I was just 16 years old, having to mourn the loss of the people I saw everyday.
We should not be scared to go to school, practice our faith or go for a walk. I am so honored to share my story among this group of inspiring people. The support for gun violence prevention is palpable, and we can do so much together. Continue the fight.
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.