Reflections On Surviving A School Shooting, Finding Hope Decades Later

Feb 27, 2020

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published March 16, 2018.

In 2018, after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. killed 17 people, students were moved to action. Many of the survivors became activists demanding action on gun control and organized student walkouts in schools throught the country, including here in Wisconsin.

Devorah Heitner has been on Lake Effect previously, to talk about her work with kids and technology. But Heitner is also a survivor of a school shooting and she wrote about her experience for Time.

"It was just such an insane situation and... we sat there in my friend Stefan's bedroom, you know, thinking that we were all going to die."

It was 1992 and Heitner was a student at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Massachusetts. Another student, Wayne Lo, was able to purchase a gun due to a loophole in Massachusetts law at the time. He murdered one of Heitner's friends and fellow student, Galen Gibson, as well as Professor Ñacuñán Sáez. Lo injured at least four other people during the rampage.

Heitner describes the fear she felt hiding on campus and the ensuing anger: "It was just such an insane situation and ... we sat there in my friend Stefan's bedroom, you know, thinking that we were all going to die. It was very bizarre. I remember feeling really angry. I remember feeling distressed that I hadn't accomplished very much yet in my life because I was 17." 

"Later when I learned how easy it had been for the killer to get a gun, I was really enraged. And I hadn't thought that much about gun control, you know, before this happened in 1992. "

She says she felt powerless and grim, waiting for the police to arrive and the murder spree to end. Those feelings changed as time went on. 

"Later when I learned how easy it had been for the killer to get a gun, I was really enraged," Heitner explains. "And I hadn't thought that much about gun control, you know, before this happened in 1992. People who had guns seemed like a whole other world away from me."

She continues, "I didn't grow up in a hunting culture or in a street violence culture. I wasn't really around guns at all ... and so it just seemed very bizarre to me that anyone would want a gun or that it would be okay for an angry 18-year-old to just wake up one morning and go and buy one in a sporting goods store."

Heitner isn't positive why the shooting at Stoneman Douglas resonated with so many people, although she has some ideas. She believes that every shooting, before and after her experience in 1992, have added something to the national dialogue. 

"It's hard to say why this and not previous horrific events, but I think each one actually does bring more and more people to the table and maybe this is the one that's going to finally affect change," says Heitner.