AFTER THE GUNFIRE STOPS: Each mass shooting creates multiple victims, many determined to turn tragedy to hope.

AuthorTolan, Mary

Mitch Dworet never wanted to be thrust into the spotlight of the nation's gun debate.

"I didn't choose this. It chose me," is how he put it when I interviewed him at a Starbucks in suburban Florida in April 2019. It was fourteen months after one of his sons was murdered and the other injured in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, on February 14,2018.

Nicholas, seventeen, who had just accepted a college swimming scholarship, was killed. Alex, fifteen, had a bullet graze his head and was struck by shrapnel; three students in his class--including one standing right next to him--were also killed. Dworet, who sports a large tattoo on his arm of Nick swimming, considers himself a parent, not an activist.

"To sit here and say all this stuff, that's not my job," said Dworet, his face marked by grief. "I'm a father. I need to move through my journey, and recover, and find my resiliency. I deserve to be a father again. And a husband to my wife."

Every time there is a mass shooting, we hear stories like Dworet's. After the gunfire stops and the media has moved on to the next big story and the politicians finish pontificating on gun reform, the surviving individuals and communities are left to deal with their losses for years to come, likely for the rest of their lives. A ripple effect emanates from each shooting, spinning outwards and impacting more people over time.

In March 2021, eighteen people were murdered in Atlanta, Georgia, and Boulder, Colorado, in two mass shootings less than a week apart. Since then, numerous other mass shootings--often defined as those that leave four or more people shot or killed--have occurred across the country. From the beginning of the year through the middle of July, there were more than 350 mass shootings in the United States.

Quotes from witnesses and loved ones left behind reverberate across newspapers, on radio stations, and on the Internet, moving all of us once more.

But each time we learn of the carnage caused by yet another mass shooting, the impact is much deeper than a soundbite. Those wounded are left with often permanent injuries--limbs that don't work, pain that won't go away.

And for every person killed or wounded, an incalculable number of family members and friends have their lives forever altered by the darkness of gun violence. Children left without a parent, parents mourning the death of their kids, and spouses forever missing their partners.

For more than a year, in 2018 and 2019, I traveled across this country interviewing gun violence survivors. I spoke with people injured by gunfire, and those who had children, parents, and cherished friends murdered in mass shootings and other kinds of gun violence.

Many channel their pain and grief into activism. Mitch Dworet, a real estate agent, and his wife, Annika, an emergency room nurse, now advocate against civilian ownership of military-style rifles like the one used by...

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