An Open Letter to Paris, From a Mass Shooting Survivor

To those in Paris who have just survived a mass shooting:

Hello. I am an American who has also survived a mass shooting. Unfortunately, there are a lot of us. Unlike you, my experience wasn’t as a result of a terrorist attack. My mass shooting was a result of a man at a concert. If you read the accounts (which I avoid like the plague for the most part, or end up scouring through during that time of the year whilst trying to figure out why I’m such a horrible person), you’ll find that there was no official motive for the shooting. The killer’s mother offers an uncorroborated explanation – that the killer had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic who felt that one of his victims was “stealing his identity” – but that is just as senseless as not having motive. Empathy inducing, perhaps, but still senseless.

The body count in my shooting was far less than yours, but I think we’re sharing a lot of the same emotions now, Paris. We were both at concerts, with musicians we admired, surrounded by fellow fans. We were in a safe place, wanting to enjoy a night out of fantastic music, perhaps a beer or two, and forget all of our worries and cares for a few hours.

The night of my mass shooting, Paris, was the first night out that I had since finally breaking away completely from a man who had beaten and tortured me for two years. It was supposed to mark a new start in my life. In 2004, I was 21 years old. It breaks my heart to think of how many of you might have been going through the same thing, or were freshly adults, or maybe weren’t going through any of that, but you still wanted to have a good time.

My shooting only lasted for 2 clips of ammunition in a handgun before a police officer ended the shooter’s life. I managed to pull most of my friends to safety and outside the front door, but had circled around by the backstage door, waiting for the few who were still unaccounted for. I had a front-row seat to seeing that man’s life end. I reflect on it now, and it’s just as disturbing now as it was then. Some people have told me that it must have been helpful to watch that man die, or that it must have brought me closure. In all honesty, it didn’t help whatsoever. There was no sense of justice. He’ll never answer for his crimes, just as the majority of the murderers in your shootings won’t answer for theirs.  

I read accounts from those of you that attended the concert on Friday and am grateful that the number of media outlets in 2004 were much smaller and less hungry for information as they are now. I wasn’t questioned by any member of the media immediately following the shooting. I was interviewed by the police twice, asked to identify the body of the shooter as the man who I watched climb over the fence into the venue and then followed up to the stage to make sure that security stopped him, as well as another man who happened to be walking nearby the venue. I had to recount my path back out to where my friends were when I watched the shooter turn and kill the security guard, realizing that I needed to leave, right then. After that, the detectives that were questioning me escorted me to my vehicle and allowed me to leave the venue. The calls didn’t start until the police reports were released to the public.

Due to my unique vantage to the shooting, I was pestered by journalists for about six months. When a “milestone” anniversary comes up, or someone wants to write about it again, people try to reach out to me, causing the memories to surface. In all honesty, though, this is the longest I have talked about it, and this is certainly the most publicly that I have spoken about it. I think the reason for that is because my heart breaks for those of you who are speaking now – simply trying to help make sense of the senseless, and trying to help get as much justice to the victims as possible.

Six months from now, a year from now, even ten years from now – you’ll be at work, or with friends, or in a moment that doesn’t matter, and an email will come through (even though you didn’t have that email ten years prior), asking you to share your thoughts and experiences. I won’t lie to you, Paris: This might be a helpful manner of sorting through your feelings, but if you’re like me in some way, this might be a slap in the face each time it happens.

I’d like to say truthfully that it gets easier, but in many ways, it doesn’t. You’ll always scan the crowd looking for exits. You’ll always wonder if that person who has their hood pulled low is hiding something sinister. You’ll always make sure that you have an escape plan, and that you have people you can call in case the worst happens. And, you’ll now have to come up with something even more terrible as your worst case scenario, because you’ve already lived through one.

Now, obviously, yours did not remain a mass shooting for long. As the details have emerged, we know that you were victims of a terrorist attack. ISIS has taken “credit” for the attacks, and given reasons that are still as senseless as having no reasons. Your president is rightfully calling this an act of war. But even if it wasn’t terrorism, it’s still an act of war whenever someone shoots strangers. It’s an act of war whenever someone feels the need to go to a venue – be it concert, movies, or boardwalks – and take the lives of others with no care.

In the American media, we are already politicizing what you’ve just gone through, Paris, but I want you to know that the loudest voices are drowning out the voices of politics, of those who reel at the thought of you enduring two shootings in less than a year, of those who know what you will be facing in the coming months, and those who simply wish you to know that we’re here for you.

Même si nous sommes de cultures différentes, nous restons humains. Je souffre avec vous. Je verse des larmes de douleur alors que plus gens connaissent la souffrance causée par des tirs de masse. Je tremble de colère alors que plus d’humain sont dénudés de leur sentiment de sécurité. Et je suis dégoutée que plus de personnes connaissent ce sentiment de menace alors qu’elles balaient la foule a la recherche d’un danger quelconque et ce, pour le reste de leurs vies. Paris, il n’y a rien que je puisse dire pour rendre la chose plus facile hormis que tu ne dost pas laisser ces évènements te définir ou te plonger dans dans la peur. Tu es aimée et supportée. Soigne toi comme il se le doit mais ne laisse pas cette voix de guérison devenir haine. Ne laisse pas ces évènements t’arrêter de vivre ta vie.

Even though we are different cultures, we are still human. I mourn with you. I cry tears of grief that more people know the pain of a mass shooting. I shake in anger that more humans had safe places ripped from them, and I am disgusted that more humans will know what it feels like to look over their shoulders or scan the crowd for unsafe situations for the rest of their lives. Paris, there is nothing I can say that will make this easier for you, other than to not let this define you or allow you to live in fear as I let my mass shooting do to me. You are loved and supported. Heal how you need to, but don’t let the path to healing become hatred. Don’t let this stop you from living your lives.

Al Miller
Resident nerd, glitter goth, and reluctant adult, Al has been writing about the things that make her heart sing for over a decade. She also handles the social media management for The Flounce. Need to have some questions answered or maybe discuss some PR for your upcoming indie game or geek culture project? Want to see if you're soulmates and discuss pizza toppings? Questions about pitching or contributing? email at allison@theflounce.com No dick pics, please.
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