In my last post, I alluded to being a survivor of a school shooting. In the grand scheme of school shootings, it is but a blip on the map. I was in Kimpel Hall on the first day of fall classes in 2000, waiting for Dr. John Locke to come teach my class at the University of Arkansas while he was being gunned down by my fellow student James Kelly, who later turned the gun on himself. Some might not characterize that shooting as a school shooting, but as a murder-suicide. But those people forget that it was reported that Mr. Kelly had 90 rounds of ammunition with him, a list of people who had dismissed him from the doctoral program (and who all had offices in Kimpel), and that Mr. Kelly was cornered in Dr. Locke’s office by the University of Arkansas bicycle police who reached the office in less than 90 seconds from the firing of the first rounds so he had nowhere to go. So yes, it was a school shooting. It just only had 2 casualties.
Far more people were injured in that shooting, though. I am one of them.
The University of Arkansas had a town hall meeting the day after the shooting. They had a psychiatrist (or psychologist) speak about the people who might have significant trauma as a result of this incident. They included:
· Anyone who was in the building when the shooting occurred
· Anyone who was in the Comparative Literature program
· Anyone who was a student of John Locke or who knew James Kelly
· Any staff member who had ever been threatened by a student
· Anyone who had ever experienced a traumatic loss in their past
I fit all five categories.
That shooting took place in 2000, and I have repercussions that ring down through my life to this day. This is why I am insisting that Vegas didn’t have 500 injuries, but at the very least 22,000. So, in the interest of having a fuller conversation about the impact of mass shootings, as at this point it feels like there are fewer people who have not experienced these injuries in our country (especially if you include statistics of violent crime in general) than people who know what it is like to go through something like Vegas, I am sharing this list. I also want to say that some of these effects were more immediate and have diminished over time, and that many of the most damaging ones were healed by Jesus but required a deep and hard fought screaming breakdown before God. Also, they all come back in varying degrees every time there is another mass shooting. As I have explained to several people this week, it is as if I have to be escorted out of Kimpel Hall again with each incident. So while we debate (again) what we should do about violence in this country, let’s add in a fuller picture of what we are actually combating.
Things I lost under fire:
· An amazing professor who spent as much time teaching peace and non-violence as he did literature
· A potential colleague who had been overwhelmed either by mental illness or a sense of marginalization
· My own mental health
· Six years of good memories in Kimpel Hall
· Loving the first day of school (instead I am afraid every time I drop my son off for his first days)
· Love of my job at the UA
· The assumption that strangers are not here to hurt me
· Comfort in crowds
· Confidence on upper floors of buildings
· The ability to leave the house. Period.
· The ease of walking into a room without identifying potential means of defense, barricading elements, or escape routes
· Trust of students
· Seeing a gun, even in the hands of a trusted professional, without panicking
· Standing in front of a group of people without feeling like a target
· The ability to lead a group of people through a reasonable debate about guns in public places
· Enjoying fireworks (though other life traumas had honestly seriously hampered that beforehand)
· The luxury of having some distance between myself and reporting of mass shootings
· Days to weeks of productivity on the job when there is a mass shooting
· Many good times with my family because I was too overwhelmed with grief and depression to fully participate
· Remaining calm during times of conflict
· Sleep. Lots and lots of sleep.
· A general sense of safety
· Confidence in the power and justice of God
· My faith
Jesus did come in my life and restore several of those things, and it is through the power of Christ that I do things like stand in front of people every week and preach a sermon. But that is just it – I can no longer do those things on my own. Without Jesus, I would literally not be where I am today. I cannot even confidently say I would be here period.
Also, some of the things I struggle with are particular to my own experience, but some of them are going to be common to survivors. Also, trust me, each survivor has their own personal list of things they have lost.
So as we struggle again as a people to try to see our way through darkness, let us have a better understanding of how far that darkness reaches. As for me, I will pray that everyone who has had such loss finds their way to the Holy. It will pull you through.
Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil. For you are with me… (Psalm 23)
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)