Life Before and After a Mass Shooting

A Virginia Tech mass shooting survivor talks about what the survivors of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting might expect to experience in the months and years ahead.

Life Before and After a Mass Shooting

"...after the shooting, you wake up in the middle of the night due to nightmares. Bloody, petrifying, scary, terrible nightmares.  Or some nights you can’t fall asleep at all because of the feelings and emotions running through your mind at a mile a minute."


The Las Vegas Concert. Sutherland Springs Church. Rancho Tehama Elementary School. Marshall County High School. This week’s mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. When is enough, enough?

For those who survive a mass shooting, life changes quickly.  It changes the instant you hear the gun shots.  Within seconds, your body goes into flight-or-fight. Then the gun shots end, but your body remains in a flight-or-fight state. When is it safe? Are the law enforcement here yet? Is the shooter in custody? Is the shooter dead?

Before the shooting, you likely didn’t think twice about your safety at the grocery store, or at church, or at the movie theater. But after the shooting, everywhere you go, you think about your safety. You over analyze which seat you should choose at the movies or church, based on your best escape plan. You have your eyes scanning everyone around looking for unusual behavior. Your eyes could hear a pin drop.

It takes a long time to come out of the flight-or-fight state.  You want to know when will it be safe again? Or the better question, when will I feel safe again? Within seconds, the feeling of safety was stripped from you and replaced with fear, anger, sadness, loneliness and self-doubt.

Before the shooting, you likely slept like a champ. But after the shooting, you wake up in the middle of the night due to nightmares. Bloody, petrifying, scary, terrible nightmares.  Or some nights you can’t fall asleep at all because of the feelings and emotions running through your mind at a mile a minute.

When the media reports a shooting, it tends to focus on the numbers. Las Vegas Concert: 59 killed and 441 injured.  Sutherland Springs Church: 27 killed and 20 injured.  Rancho Tehama Elementary School: 6 killed and 12 injured. Marshall County High School: 2 killed and 15 injured. Parkland High School Shooting: 17 killed and 12 injured.

These horrific shootings are impacting more than just the families and friends that lost loved ones and the victims who were shot. They are impacting thousands of physically uninjured survivors, as well as law enforcement officers and medics who responded to the event. These individuals may think for a long time that they weren’t impacted because the media doesn’t mention them.  These individuals may have escaped gun wounds, but the mental wounds run deep. They walk wounded for months, sometimes years, till realizing the impact the shooting had on them.

It’s a long road to recovery for everyone impacted. When is enough, enough?

Lisa Hamp is a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. With her classmates, she built a barricade to prevent the shooter from entering their classroom. Lisa suffered from untreated PTSD for many years after the attack. 

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One response to “Life Before and After a Mass Shooting”

  1. Jason says:

    Our environments have always been susceptible to danger and violence. This will never & has never changed. What has changed is human how human beings are adapting to their environments. We have all been indoctrinated into comfort & complacency. Violence doesn’t care about your comfort & it looks for your complacency. In this immediate gratification technology saturated world we have found ourselves addicted to, we (society) have lost our natural ability to detect danger. We are so sucked into our phones that we don’t realize there is a threat until it’s too late & we find ourselves ambused. We are losing our hardwired survival ability because we have adapted to a culture of immediate gratification, comfort, complacency & fear due to lack of resiliency. Violent people have always been in our society, what has changed is our ability to pick up on the pre-contact ques the violent offenders are giving us. After every active shooter event people always say there were warning signs but many chose to ignore their intuition.

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