• Cindy Martinez

Mass Shootings and Their Survivors

One shooting that was marked as the “first mass murder in American history” dates back to 1966 in Texas where 16 people were killed and 31 were injured. On August 1, 1966 Charles Joseph Whitman killed his mother and wife in the morning, then proceeded to climb the University of Texas clock tower building carrying 6 firearms where he shot bystanders from 94 meters above. He was said to be a “gun-lover” with a rough childhood who grew mentally ill and confused of his emotions. During his autopsy the doctors found a tumor that was likely the cause of his irrational behavior.

University of Texas alumni Forrest Preece, a survivor from the event, was interviewed 50 years later (2016) by radio station WBUR. He spoke of the horrifying experience he had in which he was nearly shot himself, and goes on to say how he will never forget the terrifying event despite his exciting experiences in UT. While speaking on the event he says that he was first advised to not leave the building because there was a shooting; he says that he ran out anyways: “People didn't know about mass shootings back then. It certainly wasn't part of my mental landscape.” He is then asked about the uncanny amount of shootings since then, and he was saddened. The recording alludes to how back then shootings were something rare and terrifying, but somehow they’ve become frequent and even almost normal. Even since this interview millions have been impacted due to mass shootings.


One the biggest and most well known shootings since then occurred on October 1, 2018 in Las Vegas during the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival. During this unfortunate event in which 58 people were killed and hundreds were injured; a loving mother to Mayfair alumni Marcus Guillen and current student, Christopher Guillen, Rocio Guillen lost her life. This marked the most ghastly mass shooting in American history. The thousands of people who attended the event will forever deal with the fears and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that the experience left. This atrocity was premeditated by 64-year-old Stephen Paddock who took innocent lives with no identified cause. Paddock was said to have suffered from bipolar disorder, lack of emotion, and he took anti-anxiety medication which had side effects that may have led to his aggression and violence.


Many survivors have shared their pain, such as Susanan Anely who says “You can feel 100% complete and fine and peaceful and have it be 100% taken back,” in reference to when she had a panic attack while working. Another survivor who attended the event with his 9-year-old son demonstrates the impact this experience had on his life by saying “It’s always going to be a part of us. It’s a part of [Nick’s] life, and it’s gonna be a part of his narrative as he grows and becomes a man.” This will be remembered as a tragic event in American history for now and the years to come.


One of the most heartbreaking shootings of the 21st Century was the one that happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018. A former student of this high school, Nikolas Cruz, invaded the school around 2:30 p.m., and he began shooting students seconds after a fire alarm was pulled. They had had a fire drill earlier that day, therefore students and staff immediately knew something was wrong. 15 students and 3 staff members were killed while another 14 victims were injured.


Isabel Chequer, a survivor who was shot , Isabel Chequer, and was also only 16 at the time, shared her experience and says “There was a girl who was praying in Spanish, and I thought maybe I should pray too. This is a time when you pray. So I did, and then I looked over and saw one of my classmates with her head down. Then I sort of realized that she wasn’t alive anymore. It’s weird to say that when you look at someone who’s passed, you just kind of know.” Alexander Dworet, another student whose brother was killed, says “A bullet skimmed my head. There was blood, but it didn’t feel like it could be real… Some days, I’ll be really sad. Usually, I’m all right. The friends that weren’t there don’t really ask about it. I’m glad they don’t. Sometimes it gets me in a really bad mood when they do.”


Since then the amount of school shootings spiked, and they have become somewhat regular. Many students begin to fear for their lives as soon as they enter a school due to uncertainty of what the day will hold. It’s sad to say that this is even an issue in the first place, especially since it costs young and innocent lives. Although survivors of these horrifying instances are grateful to be alive, they have to deal with the burdens that are marked in their souls forever.


After doing research on how lives are affected after an event like this it is more than likely that mass shooting survivors deal with mental health issues for the rest of their lives, whether that be depression, anxiety, PTSD, and even substance abuse. Most victims struggle with anger, fear, depression, and trouble paying attention. It is a major concern for psychologists to help them get out of this stage in the best way possible. Many of those affected join groups in which they can share their experiences with others who can relate. Trauma brought by these experiences will never fade but it is important for the survivors to keep fighting to stand up against atrocities like these. America needs to understand how gun control and lack of knowledge on mental health has contributed to these events.


Learn more about other people’s experiences here:

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/10/school-shooting-survivors.html


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