‘Tell Your Story to Everyone’: Readers Affected by Mass Killings Offer Advice for Fellow Survivors
(Some replies have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
‘Tell your story to everyone — that is how you heal.’
Mandi Burkett, Austin, Tex.
Affected by the shooting at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Tex., in 1999
When I was 16 in Fort Worth, Tex., I lived through a mass shooting at my church. The gunman killed seven and wounded seven before turning the gun on himself. I was in complete disbelief. Church was probably the most safe place outside of your home. I would say it was “hard,” “unimaginable,” “devastating,” but none of those words really describes it.
My boyfriend then, now husband, was with me at the time, as were many of our friends. It goes without saying, we were immediately changed forever. I know we all came away with something different, but from the last 18 years, here is what I know:
1. You will never get over it. You will change, and things will get different, but you will think about this (and sometimes relive it) every day of your life.
2. I have a strong faith, as do many others I was with that night, but faith alone cannot get you through this. Find a counselor, and go. If someone offers you counseling services, say yes as fast as you can. You will need to work through so many things.
3. Don’t stay hidden inside. This world is scary, but man, it is also really good. Some days just getting up and moving will be hard, but you will get up and you will keep going. Live your life. It is indeed so precious.
4. Don’t be scared to tell others what they mean to you. That is one of the biggest things I have learned. Just say it. Text it or write it down. You never know how many more opportunities you will have. Even if you cry the whole time and you stumble on the words, tell them. People need to hear those positive words more than you know, so say them. Speak life into others.
5. Keep talking about it. Tell your story to everyone — that is how you heal and that is the only way things will change. When you have had time to heal and you can talk about it, then talk about it. We need to put faces and names to this epidemic. We need to be brave and share our stories.
‘Let yourself go through all the emotions.’
Andie Caputo, Smyrna, Del.
Affected by the shooting in Las Vegas in 2017
I was at the concert in Vegas on the night of the mass shooting. I just remember trying to get out and running as far as I possibly could. I can’t explain the fear we all had that night, and I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever forget. I think the healing process is just starting for my family. They have been my biggest support and are all there for me on my roughest days. My mom has literally been there for every call, text, anything I need to listen and talk me through it. I am going to therapy to figure out how to process this.
I would say just try to remember to take everything one day at a time and to let yourself go through all the emotions you’re feeling whenever they come up. I’ve been trying so hard to just put on a brave face, but when it all builds up and you are feeling angry or upset, let yourself feel that way and then pick yourself up and remember how lucky you are to be here.
Love trumps hate. We need to come together and remember there’s more good than evil in this world.
‘Don’t try to understand why — there is no why.’
Jon Ferguson, Vancouver, Wash.
Affected by the shooting in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood in 2006
I lost two close friends at what was terribly dubbed the Seattle Massacre, in 2006. It was awful, from the moment I learned about it to this day. I had been at the location of the shooting just a few hours before it happened. I left partly because I had to work the next day. The grief was intense and immediate and lasted for years. I still feel very shaken by it, and my heart aches at the news of each new shooting. I was and am still very fortunate to have many close friends who are in the same boat as me. We support each other. I don’t know what I would have done without them.
My advice to anyone going through this is to grieve. Don’t be afraid of your grief. Don’t try to understand why — there is no why. It doesn’t make sense and it never will.
‘All that anger I felt wasn’t hurting anyone but me.’
Brad Geiger, Logan, Ohio
Affected by the shooting in Aurora, Colo., in 2012
A good friend of mine was a victim of the “Batman” shooting in Colorado, back in 2012. We would go to lunch a few times a week at work. After the shooting, I was so angry at the shooter. Honestly, if given the opportunity, I probably would have flown to Colorado and put a bullet in the back of the shooter’s head.
When the time came for the shooter’s trial, I kept up with it as much as I could. I remember as the trial drew to its end, I couldn’t wait for the verdict. As the verdict was read, at first I was like, “How is he not getting the death penalty?” Then as the decision for each victim was read, I discovered something. What I had wanted was vengeance; what the shooter was getting was justice. It took a while, but I let go of my anger and thirst for revenge. I realized that all that anger I felt wasn’t hurting anyone but me.