Oliver: Traumatized shooting survivors deserve our full attention

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

Losing a friend to murder is a trauma and a heartbreak that defies description.

To have such a painful experience when one is a teen can leave deep emotional scars that last a lifetime.

When my friend and soon-to-be sorority sister was brutally murdered on an October day at the beginning of my junior year at Northwestern, I nearly became unmoored. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I felt my world was out of control.

I can’t even begin to understand what the student survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, are going through right now.

They were there, in the building, with their lives hanging in the balance as a gunman – someone some of them knew – went through and took 17 lives away from them. They heard the gunfire, some of them saw unspeakable things and all were affected by this horrific event.

Is it any wonder that they are angry? After all, school is supposed to be a sanctuary and a place to learn in peace. It’s not supposed to be a shooting range.

Is it any wonder that they are demanding change? They are old enough to have seen this happen in other parts of the country. Over and over again.

They are old enough to remember the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where
20 first-graders and six adults were gunned down.

They are old enough to know that despite the unbelievable horror of Sandy Hook, very little was done to keep them safe.

These are traumatized kids, teens who have gone through something that the vast majority of us cannot even begin to understand. They have experienced gun violence in a way that most of us never will, if we’re lucky.

Now is the time to listen to what they have to say. They need to work through the grief, shock and anger that is surging through them.

No matter what side we’re coming from, we all can agree on this: Schools must be a safe place for our children to learn. That should – and must – be the focus of any discussion.

To those who mock, troll or denigrate these young people as they travel around the country to lobby for something to be done, please stop.

Too often these days, no one seems to listen to what they perceive to be the “other side.” It’s hard to listen when one is focusing on one’s own talking points.

Yet, these kids aren’t “the other side”; they aren’t paid political operatives. They are young people whose lives were put in mortal danger, whose friends and teachers were massacred before their very eyes.

Who can blame them for being angry and for wanting change? Their “agenda” is simple: Keep us safe to learn.

No matter which side we’re on, that’s an agenda that we can agree on.

Now the challenge becomes finding a way to do it.

And the first step is to stop and listen to what these precious young people – these survivors – have to say. We weren’t there, and we don’t fully understand, so we need to pay our full attention to what they have to say.

We owe them that.

• Joan Oliver is a former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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