Wednesday, December 11, 2013

One Year Since The Clackamas Town Center Shooting, But The Trauma Hasn’t Ended

Memorial to victims at the entrance to
Clackamas Town Center mall (source)
(UPDATED -- See below)

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Clackamas Town Center shooting, here in Oregon. 

On December 11, 2012, an aimless and possibly suicidal 22-year old man, Jake Roberts, entered the mall with his friend’s  AR-15 semi-auto assault rifle, put on a hockey mask and load-bearing vest filled with multiple ammo clips, and opened fire, moving from store to store and into the food court and firing more than a dozen shots.  I blogged on this when it happened, illustrating how Roberts had a dangerous love of guns.

Luckily, his assault rifle jammed.  But the damage had been done.  When it was over, 15-year old Kristina Shevchenko was wounded, and two adults, Steve Forsyth and Cindy Ann Yuille, were dead.  Roberts then went to a secluded part of the mall and shot himself to death.

Naturally, those who were at the shooting were traumatized.  One mall employee who witnessed the shooting is still traumatized by it one year later.

"It's hard to really talk about," he said. "I'm on edge. It will always be in the back of my mind. I'll always be looking over my shoulder, especially during this time of year. It's something that kind of sticks with you."

Another witness to the also continues to be traumatized.

Amber Spackman was at Clackamas Town Center on December 11, 2012,  trying on dresses with her mother and sister, when the shooting happened.  The memories, and the pain, are still very strong.

"For me it's been a huge impact," Spackman said. "I'm mad at the person who did it. I get angry a lot. Some days I am okay with it. Some days I am really not."

"I think about it every day," said Spackman. "Not a day goes by that I don't think about any of it."

(In the comments section, the gun guys tell her to just “get over it” and question her calling herself a “survivor.”)

But the most poignant examples of the effects of a shooting come from the young shooting survivor and the families of those who were slain.  Some have decided to take action by promoting stronger gun laws.

Young Kristina Shevchenko’s body has healed from the wound, and she will be at the memorial service, but, according to an article:

[T]he teen said it’s difficult to talk about the event. Asked how she was doing, said "it's complicated" and declined to elaborate.

The brother-in-law of Steve Forsyth mourns for him.  From an article:

I didn't sleep very well last night, I can tell you that," he told KOIN 6 News. "I stopped and saw my sister last night and I'm going to try and see her later." ….

Kemp said his sister -- Forsythe's wife -- and her two daughters are doing the best they can under tough circumstances. They decided not to attend a vigil on the anniversary.

But Kemp knows what he wants to happen next. He's fighting for tougher background checks for people obtaining guns. He's not against guns, he said, but something must be done to stop this happening again.

"If you're tired of the shootings and tired of seeing these things happen and covered in the news you need to speak up. We can not be a silent majority," he said.

The father of Steve Forsyth mourns his son, too.  From an article:

This was a special time of year for Steve Forsyth, the holiday season.

"He loved to decorate for Halloween," Ron Forsyth said. "He loved to decorate for Christmas.  He loved to carve a turkey. And none of that happened."  ….

"I have moments," Ron said. "I don't see it coming. Just triggers a memory and I go crazy for a while. Then I crawl out of it and keep going."  ….

"You'd think it would be more protracted than 1 minute and 46 seconds, because it certainly made a dent on me and a lot of people forever. But the event itself was short," Ron said.

It is a struggle for Ron, and he looks for ways to cope, reading books about grief and talking with his best friend, Joyce.
"I've told her a couple of times, 'Stop the world. I want to get off,'" he said. "It doesn't work that way."

The family of Cindy Ann Yuille have turned their mourning into action.  Both her husband, Robert Yuille, and her daughter, Jenna Passalacqua, now advocate for stronger gun legislation to prevent more families from feeling their pain.  From an article:

[Cindy] was normal. A normal lady. A perfect wife," he told KOIN 6 News recently. Dad and daughter both chimed in on how she cooked from scratch, sewed, did "organic before they were popular."

You start thinking about how the situation at Clackamas could've been prevented," Robert said, "and you start putting things together like there needs to be some changes."

Once strangers to politics, Jenna and Robert are now immersed in advocating for stricter gun laws, hoping to appeal to both sides of the debate

In April, Jenna testified to Oregon lawmakers. "There are smart, reasonable ways to reduce gun violence that are supported by most Oregonians and most Americans," she said at the time.

The family now speaks out for what they call The Silent Majority.

"Everyone has a right to have a gun in America. That's how we live," Robert said. "Not going to change that. But we have to make people responsible for their guns if they're going to have them."

"What we've said all along is that this isn't about taking anyone's guns away. It's about being responsible with your guns," she said.
There are no rules for widowers with wedding rings. I've looked it up. Didn't know how to behave," Robert said. He  paused, fighting back tears. "But, yeah, going to move on, so it'll come off. It'll come off soon."

"My mom was killed with the first bullet that was shot. So even if there was some 'good guy with a gun', that wouldn't have stopped my mom from being killed.", Jenna said. "She would still be dead."

"We need to stop the first shot from being fired, " said Robert.

Jenna wrote an op-ed, stating:

In the United States we are free and proud to speak our minds, go where we please and own guns if we want. Until my mom was murdered, I didn’t think twice about feeling safe in a mall, school or movie theater.

But in 365 days, I’ve become a different person. I’m driven to take action. Gun violence left a gaping hole in my family, tore apart our community and showed us we aren’t immune.
I’m working with Oregon Alliance to Prevent Gun Violence and Mayors Against Illegal Guns to combat gun violence because while no single solution will prevent all massacres, we can still prevent more families from experiencing this grief.

While Oregon already requires background checks on guns bought from dealers or at gun shows, private gun sales create a dangerous loophole that caters to criminals, the seriously mentally ill, and other dangerous individuals. Background checks help prevent those people from getting guns — and they’re supported by 81 percent of Oregonians.

Tonight's memorial service is a good start, with a moment of silence, but we can't remain silent afterward. We have to work together to demand action from our legislators and create a new trajectory for our communities away from gun violence.  As Paul Kemp said, "We can not be a silent majority."

UPDATE (12/12/13):  Click HERE to read a short article on the memorial service with a photo gallery of the event.  Members of the Yuille and Forsyth family were present, as was Kristina Shevchenko.