My journey into wanting to join the Gun Sense movement began on an April day in 1991. I was a photojournalist working in Sacramento, California. I was called to cover a hostage situation at a nearby electronics store. For over eight hours I saw through my viewfinder the repeated attempts the sheriff’s department made to negotiate with the hostage takers throughout the afternoon and into the night. The front of the store had large windows, and I could see some of the hostages on the floor with their hands tied by speaker wire. I could also see the lead hostage taker as he communicated with the sheriff’s department. Suddenly a sharpshooter from the SWAT team took a shot at the lead hostage taker and missed. Glass flew everywhere. The next thing I saw still haunts me to this day. The lead hostage taker pointed his handgun at the hostages on the floor and began shooting each one, one at a time.
That incident made me question what I did for a living. I decided to become a teacher because I wanted to try my best to influence kids to make empowering choices and not to hurt others.
Flash forward to the morning of October 21, 2013. I was working at a middle school in Sparks, Nevada. I went outside to the playground with my close friend, Mike Landsberry, to monitor students as they arrived at school. He and I were greeting students and walking toward the middle of the playground, and then we heard a loud boom. We walked toward the sound, and then I saw the gleam of metal in the hand of a 12 year old who had brought his dad’s handgun to school.
My friend Mike was a few feet in front of me, and he stopped a few feet in front of the student and began trying to get the student to put down his weapon. I vividly remember the look of sadness and anger in the boy’s eyes. He pointed his gun at my friend’s chest, and after a few moments, he fired a shot into the chest of my brave friend. I saw Mike crumble to the ground and I turned and ran towards the gym. Somehow I found the right key and was able to get inside before the shooter could shoot me.
The guilt of being a gun violence survivor is really hard, but I know I owe it to my friend, and to the hostages who lost their lives as well as all the thousands of victims of gun violence, to do my best to try to make our schools and our country a safer place.