YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A panel discussion held Thursday night titled “Survival and Moving Forward” represented five of the most sensational mass shootings and tragedies of the past 20 years — Columbine, Parkland, Charlottesville, Pulse and Sandy Hook.
Five people representing each shooting spoke at Stambaugh Auditorium, meeting with the media and a few students beforehand. They talked about their personal experiences, their lives since and their hopes for the future.
It was the first time the speakers met each other as part of a panel put together by Youngstown State University and sponsored by the James and Coralie Centofanti Foundation.
“While it may seem different for us to be in this room together, we know in our communities this is real life for everyone,” said Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Florida.
“This is normal now. It’s not normal, but it’s normal,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaimie was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, in Parkland, Florida.
“I was shattered, I was humiliated, I was terrified, I was confused. I couldn’t understand how my son was there,” said Sue Klebold, whose son Dylan was one of the shooters involved in the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999, in Columbine, Colorado.
“Our principal and our school psychologist lost their lives on the other side of cinder block. We heard them beg for their lives, my students, my 6-year-old students,” said Kaitlin Roig-Debellis, a former teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The Sandy Hook shooting took place on Dec. 14, 2012.
The panelists talked about the intense media coverage. Wolf said too many politicians were interviewed surrounding the Pulse shooting.
“Rather than talking about the 49 victims, some of whom had undocumented families who were concerned about being deported,” he said.
Most have dealt with people who thought their incidents never happened, that they were hoaxes.
“They tried to say there were trapeze wires that were flipping people through the air. I mean, they’re just absurd,” said Susan Bro, whose daughter, Heather Heyer, was killed on Aug.12, 2017, when a man with white supremacist beliefs deliberately drove into a crowd of people in Charlottesville, Virginia.
They also talked about getting past it.
“It is a long journey and we do begin as victims when we are crushed under the sorrow and the weight,” Klebold said.
“I couldn’t go out in public, I couldn’t go to a grocery store, I couldn’t go to a gas station, I couldn’t stay home alone. I couldn’t drive my car alone and it was infuriating,” Roig-Debellis said.
Gun control was also brought up, with the consensus being that background checks are a must.
“So if you’re a certified domestic abuser, you’re a known violent person, you shouldn’t be able to access a gun. If you are a known threat to yourself or someone else, what we call the Red Flag Law in Florida, your weapon should be removed,” Guttenberg said.
Guttenberg said he hopes the panel will inspire people to fight for their safety and do things in the future to make sure everyone is safe.