“I’m learning that you have to be brutal with these people,” said Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away a magazine clip and disarmed the shooter at a 2011 event in Tucson where Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others were shot. Maisch took out a picture she carried of the six people killed at that event and set it on the table. “Now I show this to people and start getting graphic,” she said. “This is not a pretty death like you see on ‘NCIS’ or ‘Law and Order.’ This is six people murdered on the sidewalk on a beautiful Arizona day.”
“Bloody and scared,” said Bill Badger, who was shot in the back of the head that day.
“Oh, and by the way, loved ones aren’t lost. They are killed,” Haas said.
“Murdered,” said Roxanna Green, whose 9-year-old daughter was murdered at the event in Arizona.
“I just want to shake people,” Badger said. “If this was some disease . . . we’d be in a national emergency.”
“You’d see planes dropping medicine,” Maisch said. “Instead, it’s another day. It’s nothing.”
Some of them remembered what it felt like to be oblivious, a part of the audience they were trying so desperately to reach. Barton learned about the 2009 killing spree at an immigration center in Binghamton, N.Y., only three years later, in 2012, after he was shot in Aurora and started to research mass shootings. “Thirteen dead and I didn’t notice,” he said.
Other survivors at the table had remained uninvolved even after their own traumas. It was one thing to be shot in a fluke incident, they said; it was another to be made aware that those flukes were in fact occurring constantly in the United States, where a mass shooting involving four or more people happens about once each day. Green, whose daughter died in Arizona, decided to become an activist only after the shooting in Aurora. Colin Goddard, shot four times during his Intermediate French class at Virginia Tech in 2007, said his “awakening” came years later, while watching coverage of the Binghamton shooting in his New York hotel room.
Now each shooting made Goddard “deflate,” he said, “like going back to square one.” Each new incident made him feel stuck in time: same gun laws, same public inertia, same predictable sense of disbelief, same calls from the same reporters who asked him to reiterate the same story of his own shooting, even though retelling it exhausted him. “You are constantly reliving it, and summoning the outrage, and that’s horrible but also the best chance to make it stop,” he said.
After the shootings at the Navy Yard, Goddard told his story a few dozen more times: that three bullets remain in his shoulder and hip, and that only seven people in his class survived. Haas redoubled her efforts to pressure state lawmakers in Virginia. Tom Mauser, whose son died at Columbine High School in 1999, went to another candlelit vigil wearing his son’s old shoes.