Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Survivor Story: Liz Hjelmseth

Today we have a guest post from Liz Hjelmseth, who, as a child, survived being shot by her brother.  Below is her survivor story and how the event has changed her life.  She now works to help prevent other such shootings as an organizer for her local Moms Demand Action chapter.

Liz Hjelmseth as a child
I was 8 years old the Halloween my brother shot me in a fight over my cat. As I hopped off to the bathroom to die in the bathtub, thinking it would be easier for my Mom to clean up, he followed behind me apologizing and telling me he didn’t mean to do it. That was the very last time words were ever passed between us about the shooting. 

We went into shock together but luckily my sister was home and she knew what to do. Miracles happened that day, living through it was the one I cherish the most. Me living through it, my brother living through it and my family living through it. All of those miracles were not a given the moment my teenaged brother, who was not thinking straight because of a flash of anger, went to another room got a gun that was improperly stored, lifted it in anger, pointed it hastily and pulled the trigger.

Extraordinary measures were taken to keep me alive. I slept through most of that. I woke days later to hear the story of my shooting, the story that would be repeated over and over, the one my brother and I knew was not true. The story was my brother was playing with a gun he didn’t know was loaded, it accidentally went off, striking me. So to the world it was playing and accidental, something we can all have a good laugh about and a shrug of the shoulder and go on. Playing is fun right? Accidents are not worthy of our scrutiny because they are no one’s fault they are unpreventable. No one ever asked me what my version of the story was and I didn’t offer it.

That story most likely held us together as a family and for that I will be forever thankful. The story did have consequences though. I think about the little me going off to bed every night, never able to sleep very well, always afraid someone was going to kill me. My parents would repeat over and over, “No one is going to kill you Lizzy. Why would you think that?” Maybe because every night I had to go to bed knowing the person sleeping in the room next to mine did try to kill me, but we never spoke those words. During the day I could live the story but at night, when your brain leaves you open to truths, I could not keep faithful to the story and so I stayed awake, holding vigil. I held vigil for 22 years until I couldn’t do it any longer. I gave my version of the shooting at age 30 to my family. The healing started and it continues today. The shooting has been re-categorized as a terrible thing that happened, still with very little fault.

What I have come to realize is accidents don’t happen with guns. Guns have one purpose, to kill, and so if you pick one up and handle it carelessly and it does exactly what it is designed to do there is no accident. If you are an adult that leaves guns lying around and a child gets one and shoots themselves or someone else that is no accident, you are at fault.

Next time you hear the news anchor say these words, “A child was accidentally shot today…” know there are no accidents. There is a story that child and family will live but that story is no accident.