Texas shooting survivors seek purpose in shadow of Parkland
SANTA FE, Texas (AP) – She had seen the memorials on television, the familiar white crosses erected after each massacre, and now there were 10 of them lined up on her high school’s lawn.
Kyleigh Elgin was part of a new set of young victims, like many before her, who left flowers and
letters and searched for ways that their tragedy might be different, that it might end the grim routine of school shootings.
“Our community is really small, but we’re like one big family, and I genuinely feel like we can make a difference,” said Elgin, a sophomore who ran for her life last week when a gunman blasted his way into a classroom and killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School near Houston.
But for these survivors, deciding what to do next has not come into focus as clearly as it did for the students who lived through the most recent mass school shooting, only three months ago, in Parkland, Florida. Those teens galvanized the nation with an impassioned and aggressive plea to tighten the nation’s gun laws.
In Santa Fe, a rural Texas town with just 13,000 residents who pride themselves on responsible gun ownership, a different mantra was repeated: “It’s not a gun issue. It’s a heart issue,” and heart issues are harder to fix than guns.
“We can’t be compared to the Parkland kids,” said Callie Wylie, a 16-year-old soccer player who lost eight classmates and two teachers in last week’s attack. “It’s too new. As we move on, maybe we’ll build a stronger stance. Maybe we won’t. But I hope we do.”
Sandy Phillips has watched this agonizing search for purpose again and again, at the sites of nine mass shootings since her own daughter’s name appeared on one of the white crosses.
Jessi Ghawi was gunned down with 11 others when a man opened fire in a Colorado movie theater six years ago. That’s when Phillips began a morbid mission to visit the sites of American massacres to comfort the families of the dead and the ones who made it out alive. She believes her work can’t end until the country gets serious about addressing the ease with which killers can get access to guns.
“America isn’t handling this well,” said Phillips, herself a gun owner who grew up around firearms. “I hear politicians say all the time, ‘We’re not going to let this define our community. We’re not going to let this define who we are. Aurora Strong. Las Vegas Strong. Parkland Strong.’”
Each shooting has been followed by pleas for change and yet here Phillips stood again, among teenagers wearing shirts reading “Santa Fe Strong.” The phrase has appeared on bumper stickers and storefronts and tattoos. The tight-knit community has gathered for vigil after vigil, day after day.
“There’s a routine to it, and it has to be a routine that is offensive to all of us,” she said. “And we can’t just turn our backs and pretend it’s going to go away and you’re going to go back to what your life was before.”