Anonymous

My grandparents raised me from the time I was five. Six years ago, I had just graduated and was about to start my freshman year. I walked outside to get something out of my car and saw my grandfather shoot himself. It didn’t kill him immediately, but he fell down and just kept saying, “Just let me die.” He died an hour later. He never left a note; we never knew a reason.

I ended up dropping out of school before I even started and staying home to help my grandmother raise my sisters. It’s taken years to feel peace. Even in the last few months, I’ve been finding more signs in the months leading to his death. I can’t help but continue to feel guilt in thinking that I could have changed the outcome, had I known the signs.

This last year, I’ve had this unrelenting feeling that there is a reason I’ve gone through the pain I have, and I want to find a way to help others overcome their trials. To know that it gets better. I want to help people get through the tough times and be a change.

Ivy Schamis

Valentine’s Day should be a day of love and laughter, and that is exactly what it was at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018. Until almost dismissal time, that is, when a former student got onto campus with an AR-15 and ambushed the 1200 building, where I was teaching a History of the Holocaust class.

It would be six minutes of sheer terror as he blasted his way into our hallways and into our classroom. As we heard those first shots in the hallway, we all ran for cover in room 1214, where there was no place to hide. Within seconds, shots were flying through the elongated glass window in the door of our classroom, randomly hitting anything that got in the way.

Sweet Helena, who traveled with me on a trip to Europe over a past spring break — who believed hate could one day be eradicated — was brutally murdered. And, Nick, our amazing athlete, who earned a scholarship to swim at the University of Indianapolis the following fall, was also murdered. They are with us every single day and will never be forgotten.

Khara

I was involved in the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass shooting in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017. Surprisingly, this was the worst and best day of my life. Although I never wish anyone to experience a helpless life-or-death situation, it was life-changing for me.

For months after the shooting, I was in denial and felt as if I were dead but still somehow living on Earth. It is an indescribable feeling. About six months after the shooting, I realized the positive effect it has had on my life. I figured out the career path I want to go down, and it drew me closer to God. I still live my days alert after hearing loud “gun-like” noises and have random flashbacks about that day, but now I understand why I was put through that situation.

I now want to be an advocate and voice for others who have experienced situations similar to mine. I want them to know there is a reason. How you handle it is your choice.

Natalie Shippam

When I was a sophomore, there was a shooting at my high school. Two people died, and 13 were injured. It was almost 20 years ago, and it still haunts me, especially now that I’m a mother. I get flashbacks, I have anxiety and I fear for my kids’ safety because I know how real gun violence is. It can happen anywhere, anytime, here in the United States. I’m almost expecting it to happen again.

I jump at loud noises. Being a survivor also caused me immense feelings of guilt, and I’ve struggled with depression since. My faith used to comfort me through these feelings, and it was a great distraction for many years. Now I feel that it only repressed these feelings and told me that the shooting happened because of an absence of God’s influence at my school. I now understand that my feelings are valid and that there is more correlation with gun violence and gun availability than with the lack of prayer in schools.

Terry Mitchell, Ted Fields, Dave Martin

On August 20, 1980, my friends Ted Fields and Dave Martin and I were shot in the crosswalk by a racist serial killer named Joseph Paul Franklin. Franklin was the original “Lone Wolf” who was trying to start a race war and murdered 22 people in 12 states. He targeted people he considered to be race mixing. I was 15 years old, Dave 18, and Ted 20. We grew up in the same neighborhood. By the time the attack ended, Ted and Dave were dead, and I was covered in the shrapnel from the bullets that exited their bodies. Even though I was a victim, the Salt Lake Tribune blamed me for surviving and posted my name and address in the paper for five straight days. I was targeted again, and the police refused to help me as I called because people were driving by our house with gun, saying “you should have thought about that when you hung out with those niggers.” I wasn’t allowed to go to my friends’ funerals. I was ostracized and had to go into hiding for my own safety. My life was changed forever by this senseless violence. I wish my friends were still alive.

Lydia Y

Seven years ago, I stood in my kitchen in Columbus, Ohio, shaking with anger and fear. I stared at a bullet hole in our wall that was located just a foot below the room where my infant son slept. The gunshots from a rowhouse kitty-corner to our duplex were an ongoing ordeal by January 2017, but this was different. I felt violated, threatened and helpless: How could we make our home and neighborhood feel safe again? The apex of the conflict came in April 2017, when three men were shot on the back porch of the rowhouse; one died. The household that triggered the violence was evicted from their apartment soon after the murder. This was a family with young kids, and I often wonder where they are today.

While I can relegate these experiences to dark memories, for these children, the trauma of violence and their inability to remove themselves from dangerous situations is a daily, inescapable reality. I have little experience with gun violence, but the little I do have convinced me of how traumatic and harmful it is, particularly to children. I want to do what I can to end gun violence.

Caitie

In high school, I remember huddling next to my classmates while we watched the door, praying. My teacher stood next to it with a two-by-four, ready to fight if he had to. None of my classmates were killed that day, thank God. But 10 years later, I still re-live it every time I hear about another school shooting. No child should have to text their family that there’s an armed gunman in their school.

Ellen

Simons Rock College of Bard, December 14, 1992.

I remember my friend running into the dorm, shouting that he was being shot at. Then I saw the oddest cloud, and a bullet landed in the wall eight feet away from me. I didn’t understand. It did not make sense: In 1992, we were supposed to be safe in college in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

The chaos ensued. We tried to figure out what was happening — calling friends on campus. Rumors spread of who was dead. We peered and listened out the windows and wondered if we heard people dying. At one point, we were yelled at by the SWAT team to “GET DOWN!”

Then we were corralled by the administration into the dining hall, above the student union where Wayne Lo had been captured. Later, the news crews swarmed like vultures.

When my parents drove the five hours to pick me and my friends up the next day, they said we were like children who had been through a war. We huddled together in shock and fear.

Part of me still feels that way, having never fully recovered or regained the blissful state of feeling safe.

Liz Russell

The morning of March 9, 2018, changed my life forever. It is the morning that a former resident of the post-9/11 veterans treatment program I worked for came back to our program building, knowing we would be gathered together for a staff going away party, while strapped with an assault rifle and a shotgun. I believed I would die that day, in a room with my coworkers, one of whom was a longtime family friend and six months pregnant at the time.

The gunman methodically released us, program residents first, followed by staff member names he called one by one. Being given the chance to live while leaving my friend and coworkers behind is the hardest thing I have ever done. Ultimately, the gunman would murder three of my colleagues before turning the gun on himself. I still deal with the effects of that day today, but I have moved to action. I honor their lives by advocating for common sense gun violence prevention measures.

Brie Jacobson

Jason Aldean was on stage, and I was standing in the pit on my toes, phone reached above my head to snap one last photo of the show. My best friend, mother and aunt were on our final day in Las Vegas, celebrating at our annual girl’s trip at the Route 91 Harvest festival. It was 10:04 p.m., and I had struggled to see the stage all weekend.

Our struggle to see over the crowd, unfortunately, became our saving grace. 10:05 p.m. One minute after putting my phone back in my pocket, the first shots were fired. With those shots, my life changed. Covered in both my blood and a stranger’s, we were trapped for most of the shooting. I had never seen someone die before, but I saw enough death for a lifetime within a span of minutes.

Gun violence is jarring. Surviving it feels impossible, but the real battle begins each day after. I have done what I can to further prevention, but it never feels like it’s enough.

One day, I hope not to see their eyes when I close mine. Until then, I fight to honor the 58 and prevent others from joining our involuntary mass shooting club.