Ricochet: An American Trauma
Special | 55m 52s | Video has closed captioning.
PBS NewsHour examines the nationwide trauma caused by mass shootings, suicide and community gun violence.
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
Get extended access to 1600+ episodes, binge watch your favorite shows, and stream anytime - online or in the PBS app.
Already a WNED PBS member?
You may have an unactivated WNED PBS Passport member benefit. Check to see.
Special | 55m 52s | Video has closed captioning.
PBS NewsHour examines the nationwide trauma caused by mass shootings, suicide and community gun violence.
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
♪ -This program was made possible by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.
-The headline we're reporting -- another mass shooting in America.
-It is a uniquely American problem.
-The deadly toll of gun violence is again our top story tonight.
-Another week, another string of tragic mass shootings.
-The sixth mass killing in California in less than a month.
-A country with hundreds of millions of guns has become almost numb to this deadly toll.
-Two students are dead in a shooting at... -But the trauma goes far beyond the staggering loss of the 133 people who die every day from guns in America.
-It's really important to move beyond this idea that we have a gun-violence problem in the United States and actually think about it in terms of a gun-trauma problem in the United States.
-It's a daily trauma rippling through cities nationwide.
-That bullet, that gun, took everything from me.
-Being shot may be one event that's traumatic, but witnessing violence in your community is traumatic.
Chronic exposure to violence is traumatic.
-Repeated mass shootings puncture the sense of safety in public spaces.
-I don't look at any picture of her without thinking of her last seconds.
[ Sniffles ] -And suicides, often hidden away, account for more than half of gun deaths.
-My mom called and said, "David shot himself."
My heart sunk, and I knew that it was horrible.
-Tonight, a "PBS NewsHour" special report on the deeper toll of gun violence in America.
♪♪ I'm William Brangham, and this is "Ricochet: An American Trauma."
♪♪ -It was a quiet, working-class family community.
And the most you got was an argument, maybe a fist fight.
And then the crack cocaine epidemic hit.
And at age 8 was the first time I saw violent crime.
There was a man laying here who had been shot.
And so as an 8-year-old, just standing just some feet away and watching literally the life leave a person leaves an everlasting imprint.
For me, that was just the beginning of a whole life full of tragedy and trauma related to guns.
♪♪ My name is Ryane Nickens.
I've lost my brother Ronnie, my sister Tracy, and my Uncle David to gun violence in our nation's capital.
♪♪ By the time I was graduating from high school, I'd already had over 15 instances where gun violence had plagued my life.
♪♪ -Ryane was just 12 years old when her Uncle David was shot and killed in Southeast Washington, D.C.
It was a case of mistaken identity, she says, never solved.
-It was that moment where D.C. was kind of becoming the murder capital of the world.
Growing up in a neighborhood that I grew up in, as sure as the sun rose, there would be bullets flying.
Everything is survivor mode.
After the bullets stop, you hope, you pray that it's not somebody you love.
And then you pray for the family of who it was.
That was what we did in our community.
There is a part of my life that this neighborhood stole, that people in this neighborhood stole from me.
My ability to trust was stolen in this place.
-When Ryane was 15, her family got into an argument with a neighbor, and her older sister Tracy, almost nine months pregnant at the time, was shot and killed.
-So it's like, "Okay.
Who protects me at this point?"
Because my sister Tracy was my protector.
That sense of protection left for a long time when she died.
So 15-year-old me, 22 days after my family was attacked and my sister was killed, on Christmas Day, drank a bottle of -- whole bottle of NyQuil, took some pills prescribed to my mother -- I don't know what they were -- and laid and prepared myself for my death because I did not believe life was worth living anymore.
That -- that bullet, that gun took everything from me.
Um... And so, when I woke up, I was pissed.
I was pissed at God.
I was pissed at everybody because it's like, "If pain is all I'm going to be dealt, I simply just don't want to be here.
I don't want to be here."
There were multiple suicide attempts.
And so my parents sent me to therapy.
I remember my first therapist, this Black woman who I went to see twice a week.
We would sit, she would talk, and I would sit there like, "I am not crazy.
I don't know why I'm here.
This thing happened to me.
I didn't do anything to deserve it.
So why am I being punished with these therapy sessions?"
Talking about what I -- really, what I did not want to talk about, I felt like healing meant forgetting Tracy.
And I didn't want to forget her.
I didn't want to forget what happened to her.
-Three years later, Ryane's brother, Ronnie, was gunned down in an alley near their house.
-It took a little boy on his way to school to be the one to go home and say, "It's a dead body out there."
And everybody else around in these surrounding homes heard the shots, probably looked out of their window, and went back to bed and literally left my brother out there as if he meant nothing to anybody, as if he were just a dead deer on a highway.
-Across the U.S., gun violence has long been the leading cause of death for young Black men like Ronnie.
And while Washington D.C.'s murder rate has fallen in recent years, more people are still shot and killed here per capita than in any state in the nation.
So when Ryane graduated high school, she left D.C. for college, hoping to put that violence and trauma behind her.
-I think it was my sophomore year.
Friends come into town.
We're at the Waffle House one night, and I hear an argument.
Hearing an argument means my antennae's up.
All -- All of -- Everything is up.
I am looking around.
All of my senses are up, and it is flight or fight.
And I didn't want to fight.
I just wanted to leave and go and get to what I thought would be safety.
And so I went into the bathroom and locked myself into the bathroom.
2 seconds after being in the bathroom, I hear a barrage of gunfire.
I just remember that day and back to the trauma of -- of growing up in this.
You are keenly aware of your surroundings at all times.
-Being shot may be one event that's traumatic, but witnessing violence in your community is traumatic.
Chronic exposure to violence is traumatic.
And those things play out in different ways.
We see them play out as similar to the symptoms that you would see a soldier who's been in battle in Afghanistan or Iraq.
They're very similar symptoms -- hyper-vigilant, hyper-arousal, the inability to sleep, the constantly worrying about your environment and whether you're safe or not, which actually leads to more people arming themselves.
Because they -- -Because you're afraid.
-Because you're afraid.
Because you don't feel safe.
If you were to look at a map of where the shootings are happening, you'll typically see those clusters of dots that represent a homicide.
When we're talking about community violence, we have to think about it in terms of that that's not just a dot, that's someone's life.
And then there are people that are part of the ecosystem that were attached to that one person.
And then cumulatively, if all of those dots are clustered in that one neighborhood, what does that mean for the people who are suffering from that trauma every single day?
-Healing is a lifelong thing, and just because I go on with my life does not mean Tracy didn't exist.
It doesn't mean David didn't, that Ronnie didn't, and that so many others did not exist and that things did -- these things did not happen to our family.
It means that I take our good memories, and I keep them with me.
They are my blessing.
And those bad ones, I learn to deal with and create, if I can, something good out of it.
-So this was all filled with trailers.
In this area here, there were about 25 of them.
Everyone was full of surplus stuff -- field jackets, old canteens, old mess kits.
You pick it, you name it, it was there.
I mean, it was just, like, piles of stuff everywhere.
And it was my little brother's job to start folding this up when the family decided to sunset the business.
And it was kind of a hard task for him.
He, uh -- I think he got overwhelmed.
I think that was part of what made him take his life.
♪♪ My name is Dan Hedrick.
I go by Danno.
I lost my younger brother to suicide 11 years ago in our hometown here in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
David was a mixture of a lot of different people.
He was -- He could be so much fun, but he could -- he could get really angry.
And I mean, just red-eyed angry.
For no logical reason.
-David had been a long-haul trucker and a railroad worker.
A series of injuries saddled him with years of chronic pain, coupled with what Danno says were untreated mental-health issues.
-He had had an attempt like a year and a half or two years beforehand, and the thought popped into my mind that, "You know, I should really check in on him because, you know, I haven't seen him in a while, and he gets mad at things and happy.
And, you know, I should check in on him."
Well, I was headed to an appointment with business.
I said, "No, I'll do it later.
It'll be okay if I do it later."
There was no later.
The next morning, he was gone.
And I beat myself up over that pretty -- sometimes pretty severely.
And it's gotten to where I can kind of forgive myself about that.
You know, but it takes a long time to where you get... get to where it doesn't bother you as much.
-You said "kind of forgive yourself."
So you're still -- -Oh, yeah.
I'm still beating myself up about it.
Every time I go by that stretch of interstate, it always pops in my mind.
Sometimes it's fleeting.
Sometimes it hangs around and -- and lets me stew over it a little bit.
But I -- I've kind of forgiven myself.
I haven't quite figured out how to do it totally yet.
I'm working on that part.
Let me do this.
-'Cause it's easier.
-We'll pretend we're going down the aisle.
-[ Laughing ] Yeah.
Danno's mother, Zola lives in a small house on the family property.
-Well, I haven't hung a lot of things back up.
That was the picture that we used at the funeral, and it was probably the last picture that was taken of him.
And after 10 -- 10 1/2 years, I kind of feel that I've put it to rest.
-When David died, the first few days were -- you're kind of shell-shocked.
My mom called and said, "David shot himself."
I went to the house, and she was sitting there in her car, and there were police all over the place and a coroner's van.
And my heart sunk.
You know, and I knew that it was horrible.
I went over and sat in the car with mom, and the coroner, he said, "Do you want to go around and -- and see your brother?"
And I said, "Yeah, I would if I could."
And I walked around the end of the house, and, you know -- and there he sat.
Actually, there he laid.
♪♪ -David was 42 years old when he died.
In taking his life with a gun, he joined a larger trend in the rural mountain West, where older white men are most at risk of taking their lives this way.
Wyoming, in particular, has the highest rate of firearm suicide in the country.
-There's losing someone and losing someone to suicide.
Emotionally, there's a lot in there to unpack.
Often there's guilt and questioning and, "How could we have stopped it?"
And then there's the sort of violence, I think, related part.
I think there's an additional layer when you have found or seen the person, particularly if it's a firearm suicide, and the violence and the physical trauma there, and just recognize that it is a very violent way for someone to die.
And I think if we're going to have a conversation about gun violence or firearm injury and death in this country, I think it has to include suicide.
You have to understand the broad picture, and slightly over half of all firearm deaths are suicide.
-This is the place?
Mom and Dad bought the house, and then David actually lived here, so it became David's house.
-You know, it's -- I'm really comfortable going in the house.
Sometimes it comes back.
Sometimes it's just a happy remembrance.
You know, it was -- Followed with a lot of sadness.
You know, it's... -Yeah, I've been here for... 10 years.
-Today, Danno's son, Jed, lives in the house where his uncle died.
-I was kind of leery at first.
I myself have kind of struggled with kind of some of the same things that my uncle has.
So it was definitely kind of a concern for me.
Now I've come to terms with it.
I still think about it.
It's... Maybe not every day, but a couple times a week.
[ Dog barks ] -What?
I guess, also, because he did it in the backyard, when I'm out mowing and stuff, it's -- it's something that brings it to mind.
-So was that -- was that where that was?
Whenever Jed gets married and has kids and I go over there for a barbecue, that spot in the yard is still gonna be there.
And no matter how flat he has it, I will see that it's had a little divot there that it had before David took his life and I saw him laying in that spot.
Come on, Pedro, come on.
[ Clock ticking ] You settle into this sorrow, and it's -- I think I'm at that point.
He comes up every once in a while, you know, and it's kind of like, "Hey, dude, how you doing?"
You know, "You screwed up.
I still love you.
[ Both chuckle ] ♪♪ The business itself, honestly, I hated it 'cause I felt it took my little brother from me.
It gave a lot of good things, too, but it's been, like, an extra sibling that I had to compete with because everything was about the business and the store and doing stuff like that.
Around the death itself, David's "bloop."
The bubbles and the ripples that have come out from that have...
There's just all kinds that happen.
I mean, the entire -- my entire world here, you know, sitting in a shop that I used to build my cars with, is going to go away because the family had to sell it.
It has its own memories.
And just these little things, as those ripples go out, it's like, "He's not there, he's not there," you know?
And you can kind of look back and say, "If he were here, this would be different."
-You want me to use it?
I don't want you to have to change.
The only reason we got married was because of Jessie, my daughter.
She came home from middle school.
We were living together, and she goes, "Mommy, do you love Lonnie?"
and I said, "Oh, very much.
And she said, "He loves you, right?
He's asked you to marry him, hasn't he?"
and I said, "Yes."
And she said, "Well, why won't you marry him?"
And I said, "Well, you know, your dad and I had a tough divorce, and I don't want him to take it all on.
And, you know..." She looks at me, and she says, "Well, you have to set a good example for me, Mom."
-[ Laughs ] -That really happened.
She was like a racehorse.
-You know, just high spirited, high strung, and just powerful.
And she's kind of a tomboy, and she loves rough stuff.
That's why she took to hockey so much.
She would sneak up behind me, and she'd punch me real hard on the shoulder and run off laughing and giggling.
And so I would chase her, and that was just a game we played.
We are Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, and our daughter, Jessie, was slaughtered in the Aurora theater massacre in 2012.
She had just moved into this new apartment and wanted to take her friend to a movie.
And I think I texted her one other time to say, you know, "Have a good time with Brent," and that was it.
And she said, "Mom, I can't wait for you to get here.
I need my mama."
And I wrote back, "I need my baby girl."
And that was the last text we had with each other.
-If you're just now joining us, a lone gunman opens fire in a theater outside of Denver, Colorado, in Aurora.
-20 minutes later, the phone rings, and it's Brent, and I thought, "Why is he calling me?
They're at the movies.
That's just weird."
And I picked up the phone, and I said, um... "Hey, babe, what's up?"
And I could hear the screaming going on in the background.
And he said, "There's been a shooting."
And I said, "Oh, my God.
Are you okay?"
And he said, "I think I've been hit twice."
And I knew right then that if Jessie was okay, she'd be making that phone call.
I said, "Where's Jessie?
And he said, "I tried."
And I said, "Is Jessie okay?"
and he said, "I tried."
And I said, "Oh, God, Brent, please tell me she's not dead."
And the phone went dead.
And I knew.
-When I heard that scream, it was like, "Damn.
Somebody's broken into the house."
And I ran to the into the -- out of the bedroom, into the hallway, where she was sliding down the wall, screaming, "Jessie's dead."
"How do you know that?"
And she said, "Well, Brent just called."
She was screaming and -- loudly, "Jessie's dead, Jessie's dead."
-The gunman never had to reload.
It's just the guns -- the shots just kept going, kept going, kept going, kept going.
-Like so many mass shooters, this one used an AR-15-style weapon.
In just a few short minutes, 70 people were wounded, 12 people were killed.
Jessie was hit six times, her body nearly severed in two.
Her face was almost unrecognizable.
The head shot left a 5-inch hole in her face and blew her brains out.
Is that the image that you would want of your child for the rest of your life?
'Cause it's the image I have of my daughter for the rest of mine.
I don't go to bed any night that I don't think of her being blown apart.
I don't look at any picture of her without... thinking of her last seconds.
-And as badly as she hated loud noises and the thought of her trying to hide behind -- -She hated fireworks.
-To hide behind those theater seats, which were like toilet tissue to those bullets, that's an awful feeling.
♪♪ No one knows grief -- No one knows grief until they really feel it.
You can't explain grief.
So you eventually, as time passes, you find that, you know, you can find joy in your life, and you can laugh without feeling guilty.
And when it first happens to you, you do feel guilty.
"How can I be enjoying myself when I know my daughter was killed the way she was?"
I mean, it's not like just losing a child to violence.
'Cause it's so horrifically devastating.
-And here we are, 10 years out, and it's a very different kind of grief.
It's a longing.
At first, it's just despair and this missing piece of yourself.
And now it's more of a longing that I wish she was still here.
I wish I could hear her clip-clops of her high heels coming up the walk.
I cry still often, but it's momentary.
It's not, you know, "I've got to go to bed and cry."
I just break out into tears, and then I get it back together and go on.
-After she died, she had posted something that I didn't see when she'd posted.
It was on Father's Day, and I never saw it.
And -- And it said, "I love this man."
[ Sniffles ] See what happens?
"He taught me to love."
"He taught me how to throw a punch.
I love this man."
So you see how quick it comes back.
It never leaves you.
-And yet people will turn around and say, "Aren't you over it yet?"
And it's like, "How do you get over when your child being taken from you so violently?"
You know, how do you -- You don't get over that.
So don't -- don't ever, ever say "Aren't you over that yet?"
or, "It's time to move on."
You don't move on.
You -- You change.
♪♪ -With a traumatic event like firearm violence, it's not something that is addressed and dealt with and -- and is done.
It's not something where we can expect people to resume the life they had before.
It fundamentally alters people physiologically, psychologically, socially, financially, politically.
This is not something that you come out of unchanged.
And in fact, that's kind of why it's traumatic, because a traumatic experience is one that shakes your understanding of reality, shakes the sort of coordinates of what you could presume about your sense of safety, security, standing in the world.
-I feel unsafe.
Like, that's the best way to describe it is, I never feel safe.
I always have to have a backup plan wherever we go.
I check for exits immediately.
I usually try to go to familiar places when I'm by myself.
-Jena Long still carries the trauma of what she experienced in that movie theater in Aurora 10 years ago.
-I'm scanning constantly, and then, if I see a person that I feel like is a threat or is following too close, I'll actively try to move as fast as I can away from them.
I'm very vigilant about everyone that's around us, so...
I can't describe it completely, but it's just terrifying every time, every time.
Now I'm used to that feeling where it's been 10 years and it still feels like yesterday.
I didn't really start talking about this until two years ago.
-Eight years into this, you were still holding that at bay?
-Yeah, I was just pushing it down so that way -- And it was easier, I'll let you know that, sometimes to push it down, but not all the time, 'cause then it would explode into this, like, crazy meltdown.
-One of the things that I think really shapes how people in the U.S. think about social problems, in general, but most certainly about gun violence, is that it's someone else's problem.
And I think what happens with mass shootings and the increase in mass shootings and also increase in mass-shooting coverage, is that that ability to say, "It's someone else's problem," gets chipped away.
People, maybe even without realizing it consciously, are actually very often thinking about guns and gun violence as shaping their everyday decisions in life and what they do and where they go.
And so that means thinking about gun violence when we, you know, go to a concert, when we drop our kids off at school, when we do a whole host of things that, 20 years ago, gun violence was not at the top of our minds as we did those activities.
-I lift for my mental clarity, to be able to -- I know that whenever I'm really anxious, it's the one thing that's going to get me out of my head where I can be calm.
I focus on lifting, not on anything else around me.
It's the one and only time that I can do that.
I always felt guilty about surviving, so I tried to push that down because that wasn't fair to me, either, right?
Like, to feel that way.
But I didn't -- I felt like -- -Because you walked out and -- -Because I walked out, and I know -- and, like, one of my co-workers didn't.
[ Grunts ] I just felt guilty that I did survive, you know, for a long time.
And so I didn't really talk about it because I was like -- almost felt like I was bragging that I survived, I guess.
-Even if we were able to snap our fingers and get rid of all the guns and ensure that not a single person would be victimized again by a gun, we still have hundreds of thousands of gun-violence survivors every year that are dealing with the trauma of -- of living through the afterlife of gun violence.
And so, what are we doing for them?
-The three pictures in front of you all are my brother Ronnie, my Uncle David, and my sister Tracy.
Tracy and Ronnie, I took the first three letters of their name and created the TraRon Center in honor of my sister and brother's memory.
All three of my family members were killed due to gun violence.
How many of you have lost a friend, loved one to gun violence?
They are growing up in communities that are generationally hotbeds for gun violence.
It's hurting them, and it's preventing them from advancing.
It's stunting their emotional growth, and it's hurting them educationally.
They deserve to simply be children.
I feel like my childhood was robbed, and I don't want theirs to be robbed.
I want them to have their moments, their silly moments.
[ Children screaming, laughing ] -The kids at the TraRon Center play games, they do art projects, and take field trips.
They can also visit with mental-health professionals.
-I don't understand why young people have guns.
-Well, why do young people have guns?
A little boy on his way to school -- elementary-school child -- found my brother's body on his way to school.
So, that morning, a child was traumatized.
The question I ask myself as I began to think through the TraRon Center is, "Where's that child?
And how many other dead bodies have that child stumbled upon?
Is that child still alive?
Is -- I mean, where is this child who found my brother's body, and what has his life been since that moment?"
-There have been studies which found that children who are chronically exposed to violence, even if they're not witnessing it, if they live within a few blocks of where shooting occurred, they're more likely to show up at an emergency department for trauma and for mental-health issues.
So it's not just a matter of being exposed to the violence and witnessing it directly.
It can be secondary, vicarious.
You can hear about someone that was shot in your neighborhood.
You have a relative who was injured.
You can visit a hospital.
So all of those things play a role.
-Our kids were bringing bullets that they found just laying around their neighborhood for show and tell.
To the program.
To the program.
And it's like, "Where'd you get that from?"
And we have to have this conversation about what that bullet can do, that they know the bullet can do, that this is not something you bring for show and tell.
This is not something you carry around.
This is not something that you should even know about at this age.
But they know about it.
Do you all agree?
-My greatest fear is that it's gonna be one of the kids in my program.
And I promise you, every time there is a shooting in and around their communities and they say a teen, I make phone calls.
I text, I look at the description of the teenager, of the block.
It is literally hell until I figure out who it is.
-Like a jungle gym.
[ Chuckles ] -JaJuan Pinkard works with Ryane at the TraRon Center.
-The neighborhoods are so traumatic that they -- And they don't even know it half the time half the stuff they seein', that it can just be so detrimental to their mind-set and where they could go in life.
-He grew up around this neighborhood, too, and tries to remind the kids of the lessons he learned.
-Walk straight, head high, 10 toes.
That's -- That's how -- -10 toes.
[ Chuckles ] Always on your feet, yes.
So when I tell them, "Be aware of everything," it's just more so about the people.
And if you notice anything out of order, any unusual cars, any unusual people, anything, just not in the normal and that you feel out of order, if you feel it's out of order, then most times or not, it is.
-Is that exhausting to have to be -- -Extremely exhausting.
Nobody wants to look over their shoulder all the time.
It's extremely exhausting to be worried about if your neighbor can do this or somebody's going to come through your neighborhood or anything.
It's just -- it's extremely exhausting to not be -- feel 100% safe in where you live.
-It breeds hopelessness.
And it just breeds this notion that nobody cares, that they are -- we are islands unto ourselves, left to solve our problems that we didn't necessarily create.
But you are an island, and there is a sense of hopelessness.
And when you don't have hope, that trauma sits there.
'Cause if you talk to a shooter, and you ask them, you know, "Who have you lost?
What's happened to you in life?"
they can tell you about three or five people who've been killed.
And it's a survival instinct.
Most people aren't born killers.
They are created.
We have created killers in America.
We -- We've done that.
And they have been created by circumstance.
-We can prevent gun violence.
We know that we can prevent it.
There have been numerous studies that have been done which suggest the ways that we can prevent it, by addressing concentrated poverty, by addressing the dysfunction in schools, mass incarceration, hyper-policing of communities, food deserts, medical deserts, providing access to quality healthcare.
All of these things can contribute to reducing the level of gun violence that we have in our communities.
[ Children laugh ] -That numbness is them protecting themselves emotionally from what they see.
But our deal with them is, "Let's talk about it so that it's not buried, so that you're not sitting in a therapist's office, you know, 20 years later, writing down a list of every traumatic thing that's ever happened to you related to a gun."
That the numbness does not settle in so deeply that they can't empathize and feel that this is wrong.
This is not normal.
This does not happen in every community.
And question why it continues to happen in theirs.
-We talked about anything.
Um, just little things to help ease the -- the stigma of being a suicide-loss survivor.
As I started working with different people in the support groups, that kind of helped me in a really, really, really safe place, pull that trauma out and look at it and figure out how to make it less powerful, you know, and make it heal.
When there's been a suicide, the coroner calls us in.
I have a team with us that go out and meet with the survivors.
And we start to tell them, "Look, this is what you're gonna start feeling.
You're gonna lose your memory.
You're gonna stop eating.
You need to eat.
You need to drink a lot of water because you're going to cry.
Please cry, but make sure you hydrate yourself afterwards."
And then we start keeping -- -It's actually incredibly practical things.
-Yeah, it's -- it's the little things that you miss.
-I was so grateful when somebody was coming that day.
I mean, I knew that we would go to counseling, but to have somebody that quickly kind of tell us that, "We're gonna help you down this path," um... because it is a very lonely place to be.
-Andrea Allen lost her teenage son to a gun suicide in 2021.
Cole Allen was off at his freshman year of college.
He'd been away from home for just five weeks.
-After Cole passed away, there were some people that commented on how he passed away.
I had people tell me, "Suicide's for cowards," and all this stuff, and I'm like, "Did you know Cole very well?"
'Cause if you knew Cole, then you knew that kid wasn't a coward.
And they don't know how it feels unless it's actually happened to their family.
-Molly does high school rodeo, and Cole had done high school rodeo for all of his career.
And I didn't know there was a problem with cowboys and suicide, that "Pull your bootstraps up," and, "We don't ask for help.
We just take care of it."
And -- And we can't have the kids thinking that way because they have -- they don't have the resources to fix this.
-It's like, "Okay.
I can cowboy through this.
And -- -"Cowboy through this," right?
-Yeah, that's -- You know, and out in Wyoming, that's -- that's -- Some of the problem we have, it's, you know, people are out on the range, out on the ranches.
Out at my house, it's a football field in any direction to a neighbor, you know, and it's -- there's places that you pull into that you can't see a neighbor for three, four or five, 10 miles.
And you have somebody that's out there that hasn't addressed their mental issues, it's a perfect storm if all of the elements come together for them.
-The isolation and the stigma around mental health care from this so-called "cowboy up" attitude becomes even more complicated in a place with so many guns.
Wyoming has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the country.
-I have many regrets about leaving the gun with him.
There was a moment that I was like, "Ooh.
I don't know if we should do that," but Cole has -- Cole has worked with the firearms since he was 8 years old.
He's been in 4-H. Cole knew how to use firearms.
He knew what they were for.
He'd been hunting.
He and Molly will have deer.
It was just part of our family.
I mean, it's a tool.
Yeah, it made it easier.
But, as a mom, yeah.
But I have that moment that -- But hindsight, there were lots of those moments.
I don't blame it on the gun.
-It's not that having a gun in the home somehow prompts suicidal behavior.
It's that, in that moment, if someone reaches for a gun, 90% of the time they die.
There's still a lot of stigma that somehow suicide is inevitable or it's just their personal decision.
"It's none of my business."
But we know actually it is preventable.
And we know that most people who attempt suicide are in a temporary crisis, and they get better.
So when people are in the midst of crisis, for whatever reason, they might not be thinking straight.
And that's a time when you don't want to be around dangerous objects.
-As part of its different suicide-prevention efforts, Danno's organization distributes these free gun locks.
-It's got a little cable that comes out that would go through in the gun, and it's got a lock.
We've suggested people take the keys and freeze them into a block of ice.
That, "Okay, if you want to take your life, you set the block of ice there, and you..." -Because the time that it would take to thaw... -Yep.
-They're -- they're going through analyzing, "Is this, like, a really good idea?"
It's interrupted the suicidal thought.
-Did he have anything else?
Like, a rifle?
-No, he just had, like, you know, your basic little gun.
As an E.R.
physician, I see -- Every day, I see someone at risk of suicide.
But I don't see many cases where someone has shot themself in a suicide attempt because people usually die at home.
But I remember vividly one case where a middle-aged individual who had tried to die by suicide by shooting themselves in the head, did make it to the E.R., but it was clear very quickly it was a completely non-survivable injury.
And their spouse was there, and we had a chance to talk.
And it was -- it was just so clear to me that if they hadn't had a gun that morning, that things would have been fine.
It was, you know, they were having some, the spouse said, stupid fight, wasn't even a big deal.
And -- -It's a storm that would have passed.
And they made a choice that they couldn't take back.
And if that choice had been with pills or something else, you know, I would have been sitting with the spouse talking about hospitalization and what was coming next.
But instead, I sat with the spouse while we withdrew care and the person passed away.
And that was the only thing that I could offer that spouse.
And it, um...
It was awful.
Like, it still sits -- And I realize it's not even my family member who died, but it just -- it was such a sad situation that, like, the access to this thing that morning is ultimately what was the -- what led to that outcome.
Which one do you want to listen to today?
Do you want to listen to Jackson or Troy?
I remember at one point saying, "I don't want to be that mother that everybody feels sorry for when I walk into a room."
You know, "That's that mother."
Or, "That's Jessie's mother.
She was killed," you know?
You just -- That's where your head goes.
And he very gently took me by the shoulders and turned me towards him, and he said, "That is who you are now."
-We have breaking news now for you.
Connecticut State Police and SWAT teams are now responding to a school shooting at an elementary school in Newtown.
It's roughly 2 hours... -And the way they were covering it, there was just something about the way the news was breaking.
My gut just knew -- it just knew it was going to be bad.
And as those people, those lovely families were entering into the community center, he said, "Oh, my God, that's what we looked like five months ago."
-27 dead, 18 or so of them children, in this mass shooting.
-That's when we responded to our first mass shooting.
Lonnie, do you want any more coffee before we pack everything up?
-No, I just want to get... -Packed up.
-Still grieving the murder of their own daughter, Sandy and Lonnie began what's now become their life's work, traveling across the country to sites of other mass shootings.
-We just decided, after Sandy Hook, that's what needs to happen.
We can be the people that hold that hand, tell them what to expect, what's ahead of them, because we've already been through it.
And that can be a gift to whoever else is affected.
-It's like this expertise that you never want to have, but now you have it, and you might as well... -No, who would want to be an expert in gun violence?
I mean, God.
-That started us on the track to 21 public mass shootings.
With Uvalde was our 21st public mass shooting.
-I know that talking with other people who have been through trauma can be traumatic for people who've also experienced something similar like that.
And here you guys are putting yourselves in this position of, in some way, constantly reliving this and seeing what you had to go through on the faces and broken hearts of other people.
And I just don't know how you have the strength to do that.
-You know, for some reason, it helps.
-I can't -- it helps us as much as it helps the other person receiving it.
What's that old adage?
If you give it away, it comes back to you tenfold.
And it really does.
Yes, it is retraumatizing, and we don't share a lot of our story initially with them.
We just say, "Our daughter was killed in a mass shooting.
Same weapon was used," if it's appropriate.
"We know what you're going through.
We've walked in your shoes."
When we first met this couple in Parkland, I turned to her, and I said, "I know when you woke up this morning, you said, 'Why am I alive and my child is dead?
Why am I still here?'
And you wanted to die.
I understand it 'cause it was the same thing I thought.
Just let me die.
I don't want to take another breath."
I tell people that if I'd had a handgun in the house, not sure I'm still -- I'd still be here.
You know, because it's that moment of such despair.
How are you?
I'm doing okay.
Doing all right.
-How are you doing?
-Oh, I'm fine.
-Sandy and Lonnie came to Washington, D.C., last year to mark the passage of the first major federal gun legislation in decades.
-For 7 1/2 years now, we have been living out of our RV and responding to mass shootings across this country.
We have seen the worst of the worst.
-You have traveled all over this country and been to so many communities that have been visited by these horrible events.
Do you think this country is suffering a collective trauma from guns?
We've got to take that whole thing away of, "Well, unless you were wounded or you had somebody taken from you, you're not a survivor."
Just about everybody in America this day and age has been affected by gun violence.
And it's like, if you're not looking around and realizing that, you're in denial.
Lonnie and I have always tried to build the bridge from the mass shootings to the individual shootings that, as a friend of mine calls them, slow-motion mass shootings that happen every day in America.
-And that get no attention.
-No attention and often no investigation.
But you hear these stories, and then you start talking to doctors and lawyers and other people.
So you're -- it's not just the survivor base.
It's the other people that are in that ripple.
And they start telling you about, "Oh, yeah, we have 8- and 9-year-olds coming into the E.R.
every weekend that are so traumatized and so deeply scarred that they can't function.
We have the collective that live in urban America that are being slaughtered every day and nobody's paying attention to.
And it's like, "This is a traumatized community."
-Mass shootings where the victims are white and the shooter's white, that's an American problem.
Communal gun violence in Black and Brown communities that have been happening for five decades, that's just a Black and Brown -- that's just a Hispanic and Black, African-American problem.
-Mass shootings happen every day in America.
There are four more people who are shot every day.
And they typically happen in cities with populations of Black people who are the victims or survivors of mass shootings.
I'm definitely disturbed by it and the ways that the media often neglects to illuminate Black suffering in similar ways and to provide attention that's given to it almost as if you deserve to be shot.
And who deserves to be shot in this country?
-At some point in our lives, almost every single American is going to know someone who has been impacted by gun violence.
So that right there should have us all sit back and say, you know, this is not something that happens out of sight, out of mind.
This is not something that only happens when the headlines grab us.
This is something that is threaded through society and that touches all of us if we're willing to hear it and willing to acknowledge it and willing to witness it.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
-Would you receive this wonderful woman who's doing incredible work curbing violence in Washington, D.C., and around the nation, the Reverend Ryane Nickens.
[ Cheers and applause ] -God called me to this work, and this is my life's work.
This is, for me, the reason to continue.
It is the reason to breathe, to live.
It is a joy to be around children who still have all their hope.
We try to instill in our kids, "You are so much more than what's happened to you.
And there is so much more in this world.
And you're still growing, and you're still realizing things.
So don't let this piece be the only piece.
It's a part of your story.
But don't let it deter from who you are and your worth."
-We'd come out here and climb in the mountains and in between the rocks and up and around the rocks and get some really neat scars that, you know, we'd carry for the rest of our lives.
Here in Wyoming, I think that, unless it's something that's really visible, a small group of people sees and feels the trauma, and everybody else just goes about their life.
You know, you'd think with all of these little grief circles of people who lost people to suicide, you'd think that, at some point in time, they'd start bumping together and clumping together and somebody would say, "Hey, this is wrong.
This needs to change.
You know, we need to talk about this."
And I think it's partially the stigma that keeps that from happening.
A lot of people, it's like, "If we don't talk about it, it won't happen anymore.
We're the people that get out there and become the town crier and say, "Hey, you need to look at this."
♪♪ ♪♪ -I'm a little tired of America building memorials to gun violence survivors and victims and not changing the laws that would prevent it.
I think the joy comes from, "Hey, we've made it for 10 years."
And I was just talking to one young lady who got married this last year.
And her boyfriend was killed that night.
And it's those stories that you realize, "Okay.
There is life after death.
There is life that continues on."
And, again, you find a different kind of joy in what you do and how you live.
But you do find it again.
-When we see a face that we recognize, you can't help but smile.
You know, they're here for the same reason we are.
And it just -- it feels like a family.
-And then to see them 10 years later, how they've grown and matured and are living their lives.
-Babies have been born, marriages, as you said.
-Life goes on.
-Life does go on.
♪♪ O0 C1 ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -This program was made possible by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.
♪ You're watching PBS.