AN INNOCENT VICTIM

Freshman Congresswoman, Mary Louise Givens, stood in the House Chambers and delivered the following speech to a gathering of her fellow Representatives and to the American citizens who filled the gallery.

 

I am speaking to this body today because I have a responsibility to acknowledge the individual that inspired me to seek public office.

So, please indulge me for just a few minutes as I honor a pledge I made to myself to tell this person’s story.

 

You did not have time to process the sound of the gunshot fired from the Glock 9mm before the bullet, hurtling at 1,500 fps, struck your forehead just over the right eye, penetrated your brain, displaced copious amounts of tissue and then blew off a portion of the skull as the projectile exited. The cloud of red mist from the back of your head, spread out in a large pattern spraying those nearby. Being struck by another person’s blood and brain matter is something that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Your body was instantly overwhelmed by shock as the force of the impact knocked you back several feet before you collapsed from your grotesque wound. But, incredibly, despite your horrific condition, first responders were stunned to find you still breathing. From that moment on, every medical professional who came in contact with you did everything humanly possible to keep you alive. That effort began with the race to get to a trauma center.

Although every gunshot victim receives the highest quality of care possible, with you there seemed to be an added sense of urgency because when they looked at your decimated body it reminded them of the ones they loved at home.

That was because you were only seven-years-old, and seeing a little girl in your condition broke their hearts – even as they tried to keep yours beating.

The attack happened on a Wednesday morning. You were sitting in your second-grade class when your teacher’s ex-husband burst into the room shooting her, your best friend, and then you before he could be subdued. The other two victims died instantly from their wounds, however, a slight miscalculation in his aim left you lingering between life and death.

Sixteen other children were also present in the room that day. The shocking brutality of the attack they witnessed traumatized them as the innocence of childhood was stripped away by the sight of the teacher they loved and two of their friends bleeding out on the floor.

You endured hours of complex surgery and then you were placed in the ICU. Although you never regained consciousness, you struggled to breathe deep into the night until the desperate medical teams finally lost their valiant battle to keep you from becoming a statistic.

The moment your heart stopped, you became the final fatality of the shooting. But that meant there were “just three victims” and that was a level of horror that only warranted local news coverage.

Somewhere, for some reason, it has been decided that in order for the massacre of innocent men, women, and children to be designated as a “mass shooting” there need to be four or more murders. Therefore, you were ignored by the national press as well as both houses of Congress. But, in reality, the spotlight of outrage rarely shines with intensity until the casualty rate reaches double figures.

That is because catastrophic gun violence has callously been reduced to a numbers game. And although the death of every victim should be considered reprehensible, that is not the case. But even on the awful occasions when the body count is staggering, our attention span is limited, and after a few days our focus shifts, and we move on.

Because of the growing numbness that has seeped into the national consciousness, whenever we hear about a shooting with multiple fatalities, our initial interest is based solely on how many are dead. When we learn that it is a smaller number, the story no longer resonates with us, and it’s quickly forgotten.

Therefore, your death did not even elicit the usual tepid “thoughts and prayers” typically expressed by those holding political office. These were the same individuals who refused to lift a finger to prevent the next shooting for fear they would lose their financial support from the gun lobby.

Although your life stopped the moment your brain was decimated, your physical existence did not cease until your last heartbeat. But your passing received only a cursory mention on the local morning news before they turned to the weather and the chance of rain for the weekend. It turns out that people were far more concerned about their outdoor plans than they were about hearing of another all too common death from gun violence.

Your funeral took place the following Saturday morning. Because so many people loved you, the service was filled with raw emotion, but at its conclusion, it was not possible to view your body. The horrendous mutilation from your wound was too extensive to hide cosmetically. The hollow point ammunition used by the shooter left you unrecognizable even to your family.

But because you were just 3’10” tall and only weighed 47 lbs., your casket was shockingly small. Seeing it drove home the point, in the most visceral way, that it contained the body of a young child.

You were lowered into the ground some ninety minutes later, and it did indeed rain, making people in your community unhappy that they were forced to stay indoors on a weekend. But your family and friends were oblivious to the downpour as they stood by your grave, stranded somewhere between heart-wrenching sorrow and mind-numbing disbelief.

That evening a brief memorial was held for all three victims. Candles were lit, and prayers were said, but the ceremony only benefitted the living. There was no ritual, religious or otherwise, that could bring you back. In fact, engaging in public grief only highlighted the feelings of hopelessness and frustration people felt as they struggled to understand why such a bitterly cruel attack had destroyed their world.

For those who loved you, the day of the shooting will act as a marker for the rest of their lives. It is a dividing line that will never fade. Life will forever be considered in terms of what occurred before your murder and everything that happened after.

They will continue to live in anguish until the passage of time finally begins to lessen the pain – but it will never really disappear. Each year, your birthday, the holidays, and, of course, the anniversary of the shooting itself will always provoke strong reactions as they are forced to relive the devastating moment that altered all of their lives.

Because your time on earth was so brief, your family was denied the joy of watching you grow up. There would be no dance or piano recitals. No school events to attend. No father-daughter banquets and no prom dress to buy. You would never attend college, and you wouldn’t have the opportunity to fall in love with the person of your dreams. You would never experience the beauty of motherhood or the joy of rocking grandchildren on your lap.

All the lives you would have touched, all the people you would have influenced, all the love and compassion you would have shared with the world will never happen. And that is a loss that cannot be measured.

Two years after you were buried, your parents suffered a final indignity. Because your father had been laid-off, he lost his medical insurance just a few weeks before you were killed. Even as they struggled with their debilitating grief, your mom and dad desperately tried to pay the astronomical medical bills that continually flooded in from the fifteen hours you clung to life. But, eventually, they lost everything. They were forced to file for bankruptcy, and give up the only home you had ever lived in.

Your killer, on the other hand, will have room and board for the rest of his life. He was able to commit his atrocity because he purchased his weapon from an independent seller at a gun show thereby circumventing any background checks.

It is literally impossible to comprehend the amount of misery that this individual, with a “legally purchased” handgun, was able to unleash in a matter of seconds. Lives were destroyed, leaving survivors and families attempting to cope with a tragedy that should’ve never taken place.

Because you were an only child, after your death, people tended to think of your mother as a woman who had no children. But she never thought of herself that way. She knew in her heart that she would be your mom until she drew her final breath.

It was because she so desperately wanted to keep that connection alive that she decided to bury you with your favorite stuffed bear, the one you slept with the night before the shooting. And for the rest of her life, your mother will return to the cemetery each year on your birthday and place another stuffed bear on your grave because no matter how old she grows, you will remain unchanged. You will forever be her little girl.

That is how I discovered the details of your story. Eighteen months ago, I happened to be visiting a cemetery one afternoon when, purely by chance, I saw your mom place a stuffed animal against your headstone. As a mother myself, I felt compelled to speak to her, and we began a relationship that has changed my life.

Learning about you and your family was one of the major factors in my decision to run for the United States House of Representatives. I was eager to challenge the NRA and their blood money because I believe that voters are no longer willing to tolerate the murder of innocent children like you. That is why I am so proud of the men and women who voted for me to represent their belief that gun violence must be stopped.

There is no doubt it will be a long hard struggle, and we know that while we are fighting for change, there will be other ghastly shootings. That much is a certainty. Unfortunately, we live in an age when we are forced to endure the grim prospect of gun violence breaking out at any time in any place.

It is also a fact that if there are not a sufficient number of fatalities in a particular tragedy, those lives will be swept away with little notice by our weary nation.

But I could not let that happen with your death. Your brief life represents all of the love, goodness, and hope that is lost forever each time a person picks up a gun and kills another human being.

If we are to be a compassionate nation that protects its citizens, particularly the most vulnerable among us, we can no longer turn away in an attempt to forget the endless carnage that ravages our communities.

That is why I needed to tell your story. Because today, on the fifth anniversary of your murder, I wanted America to pause for a moment to remember you.

 

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