Survivors of mass shootings can’t escape the aftermath

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard speaks at a news conference, Thursday, July 2, 2020, in Pontiac, Mich., to confirm one felonious assault charge each has been filed against Eric and Jillian Wuestenberg, both of Independence Township, after a confrontation that resulted in pointing hand guns at Takelia Hill and her children after exiting a restaurant in Orion Township, a day earlier. (Todd McInturf/Detroit News via AP)
Survivors suffer long after the incident leaves the headlines.

More than a year after 11-year-old Mayah Zamora was airlifted out of Uvalde, Texas, after being critically injured in the Robb Elementary school shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers, the family is still reeling.

Knocks on the door startle Mayah into a panic. The family is skipping Fourth of July celebrations to avoid booming fireworks. An outing to the Little Mermaid movie requires noise-canceling headphones.

Since 2016, thousands of Americans have been wounded in mass shootings, and tens of thousands by gun violence, with that number continuing to grow, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Beyond the colossal medical bills and the weight of trauma and grief, mass shooting survivors and family members contend with scores of other changes that upend their lives.

Survivors talked to The Associated Press about the mental and physical wounds that endure in the aftermath of shootings in Uvalde, Las Vegas, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois, during a July Fourth parade last year.

UVALDE

Mayah suffered wounds to her chest, back, both hands, face and ear, and needed so many surgeries her parents said they stopped counting. The family relocated to San Antonio, where Mayah spent 66 days in the hospital and still needs care.

”Her hospital bill is insane,” said Mayah’s mother, Christina Zamora. “It reaches close to $1,000,000, maybe over,” not including rehabilitation, follow-up visits and counseling.

A year later, Christina and Mayah’s father, Ruben, said they don’t know what bills will be covered by insurance and how much they will need to pay. When Mayah was discharged, they realized one parent needed to stay home to care for her.

Christina quit her job. Facing daunting bills with one income instead of two is scary, she said. The relocation also has separated the family: Ruben works seven days on, seven off in Uvalde. The couple’s oldest son, Ruben Jr., stayed in Uvalde to attend college and work. Zach, 12, “misses him. He misses our old normal life.”

COLORADO SPRINGS

Ashtin Gamblin was working the front door at Club Q in Colorado Springs on Nov. 19 when a person armed with a semiautomatic rifle shot and killed five people and injured 17 more, including Gamblin.

“I was shot nine times. Five to my left arm. Twice to my right arm. Twice to my left breast. Both of my humerus were shattered. So two broken arms,” the 30-year-old said. Six months later, “my right arm is still fractured. My left hand, we’re still working on function.”

Tasks that were once simple, such as walking her dogs, are now challenging and the loss of autonomy has been difficult, Gamblin said.

She has battled with health insurance, the hospital and worker’s compensation officials to figure out who would foot the $300,000 medical bill.

Gamblin also no longer felt safe in her apartment, where she could sometimes hear gunshots outside. She bought a house in a quieter neighborhood: “a house I wasn’t prepared to buy,” she said. “I bought a $380,000 safe space.”

She lists other unexpected post-shooting costs: a flooded basement, a service animal, a new car to get to doctor’s appointments.

Half a year later she is not mentally recovered enough to return to work.

”I just can’t be there… I don’t feel safe going to the grocery store. I don’t feel safe being in public,” she said. “I have no idea what I’m doing with my life currently.”

LAS VEGAS
Tia Christiansen had worked in the music industry for more than 20 years when a gunman unleashed the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history at a Las Vegas music festival she helped organize in October 2017.

The shooter rained gunfire from the windows of a high-rise casino hotel into an outdoor concert crowd, killing 58 people and injuring more than 850.

Christiansen was scheduled to be at the festival that day. But she felt ill and stayed in her room, two doors down from where the gunman fired.

“The room was shaking. It was incredibly loud. There was actually a moment when the gunfire was so loud that I literally instinctively ducked and put my hands over my head because I thought that the walls or the ceiling would come crumbling down,” Christiansen said. “I completely reconciled my life and thought, ‘Am I ready to die?’”

At concerts, Christiansen no longer focused on fans’ joy, instead fixating on emergency exits and whether people could get to safety. She has since given up her career in the music industry, letting go of her dreams.

Her lingering PTSD and need to control her environment also has affected Christiansen’s relationships with her friends and family.

“My personality changes. I get very short tempered, and I get very judgmental. I’m quick to be snippy,” she said. “That is heavy energy to be around.”

HIGHLAND PARK
Leah Sundheim, 29, was a night manager at a hotel in Las Vegas when she got “the worst phone call you can ever receive.”

Her mother, Jacquelyn Sundheim, had been killed at a shooting during Highland Park’s 2022 Fourth of July parade, along with six other people.

“That flight home broke me,” Sundheim said.

She then moved back to Highland Park to be close to her father.

“I couldn’t be away from my family,” Sundheim said. “I can’t do another flight like that ever.”

Mass shootings cause a variety of trauma, she said. Her experience is different from that of her aunt and cousins, who were sitting next to Jacquelyn Sundheim when she died.

“They have the visual and sound… of watching her be murdered, and my dad has the trauma of receiving the phone call and then subsequent hours trying to get to her body. My trauma is waking up to my phone ringing and hearing that my mom was killed,” she said.

Associated Press


3 comments

  • Dont Say FLA

    July 3, 2023 at 10:51 am

    Rhonda can offer some tips on escapism. Rhonda advises that you pretend trans and drag queens and books are harming children.

    I say Rhonda’s idea nothing more than the veritable head in the sand. Adding some distractions don’t mean your head ain’t in the sand.

    Stupid, stupid Rhonda with their head stuck in the sand because that’s what will keep people alive.

    Politicians sticking their head in the sand over America’s problem of bullets flying everywhere, they are trying to keep their political careers alive. They are not trying to keep their constituents alive.

    LOL @ Stupid Rhonda. Rhonda’s scheme is just too obvious. That’s why everywhere they go on their campaign tour, Everybody Hates Rhonda.

  • SteveHC

    July 3, 2023 at 11:35 am

    MEANWHILE, far too many totally and selfishly self-centered scumbags insist on everybody -regardless of mental state or background – having entirely unfettered access to and entitlement to carry anywhere they please any type of gun weaponry they choose. Truly disgusting examples of “humanity” at its worst.

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Comments are closed.


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