I've Been Closer To More Mass Shootings Than Anyone Should Ever Be

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On Dec. 14, 2012, I boarded an hour-long flight and sobbed for the duration of the journey. My mom and sister were with me, and we cried together, repeating, "How could this happen?" It was the day that 26 children and their teachers were shot dead in Newtown, Connecticut. We thought: How could this be? How could a person enter an elementary school and take lives like this?

For the next few weeks, it was all I thought about. I constantly spoke to my friends about Sandy Hook. My youth group put on a rally against gun violence. I watched the gut-wrenching interviews on TV of families who had lost their children. And then the coverage dwindled.

I forgot to think about it.

Fast-forward to three years later, I was a sophomore at Florida State University. My primary concerns were studying enough for my Public Opinion and Political Behavior exam, receiving funding for a student trip the next semester, and making time for my grades, personal life, and sleep. I spent a lot of time in Strozier Library.

I had spent hours every week in that library.

It was Nov. 20, 2014. I woke up to countless messages and missed calls from family and friends who were checking on me. A man who had graduated from Florida State years prior traveled back to school — to Strozier Library — and shot thirty rounds from his semi-automatic handgun. I had spent hours every week in that library, reading, writing, and sometimes people-watching. Never did I imagine it would be a space marked by this kind of unthinkable pain.

The next evening, the school organized a vigil. So many people showed up to be a shoulder to lean on, a hand to hold, a friend to cry with. For the next few weeks, I avoided Strozier, but eventually I began to return regularly. At first, I felt uneasy. Eventually, I acclimated.

And I forgot to think about it.

Elyssa Ronik

Two years later, I was still in school. I was concerned about pretty much the same things, but add anxiety over graduating into the mix (it was the beginning of my last semester of college). I was tired. I had just flown into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport after an almost 24-hour trip home from being abroad.

On the car ride home, my phone began buzzing incessantly. Again, my friends and family were demanding to know where I was and if I was OK. Why?

There had been a shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport. Five people were killed. Twenty minutes after I left the same place. In the days that followed, I thought about it, I talked about it, I cried about it.

Stoneman Douglas? My old high school?

Then school started up again. My attention turned to other subjects. And I forgot to think about it.

Elyssa Ronik

Last month, I was at work when my phone began to vibrate nonstop. My family was texting back and forth about something, which was unusual — we never talk this much during the day. Then I saw a text from my sister: "There was a shooting at Douglas."

Bullets were shot at students in the classroom where I had my first-ever high school class.

Stoneman Douglas? My old high school?

Most families live in Parkland because of the town’s safe reputation, and the quality of the local school’s academics. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe that something this could happen at the place that I was taught was the safest location in my life. But here we are.

Elyssa Ronik

My high school has been plastered on televisions and newspapers across the world. Watching reporters speak from across the street, I think: That’s where I parked my car to pick up my sister. That’s where I would meet up with my friends to get dinner. Bullets were shot at students in the classroom where I had my first-ever high school class.

I cannot forget to think about this. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could forget. I will think about it every single day for the rest of my life.

Now, I can only hope that every person who has no direct connection to Parkland does not forget. It is distressingly easy to become numb to mass shootings. Yet, no matter how easy it is to move on, we must continue to talk about this, to work on solutions to this. To make change — in spite of everything.