CHICAGO (AP) — More than a year after 11-year-old Mayah Zamora was airlifted from Uvalde, Texas after suffering life-threatening injuries in the crash Shooting at Robb’s elementary school 19 children and two teachers were killed, the family is still devastated.
A knock on the door causes Mayah to panic. The family skips the Fourth of July celebrations to avoid a booming fireworks display. Noise-cancelling headphones are required for an excursion to see The Little Mermaid.
Since 2016, thousands of Americans have been injured by mass shootings and tens of thousands by gun violence, and by that number keeps growingaccording to the Gun Violence Archives. Aside from the colossal medical bills and the burden of trauma and grief, mass shooting survivors and families face numerous other life-changing changes.
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Survivors spoke to The Associated Press about the mental and physical wounds sustained after the shootings in Uvalde, Las Vegas, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois, during a July 4 parade last year.
Mayah suffered wounds to her chest, back, both hands, face and ear, and had to undergo so many surgeries her parents said they lost count. The family moved to San Antonio, where Mayah spent 66 days in the hospital and is still in need of care.
“Her hospital bill is insane,” said Mayah’s mother, Christina Zamora. “It’s going to be close to $1,000,000, maybe even more,” excluding rehabilitation, follow-up, and counseling.
A year later, Ruben, Christina and Mayah’s father, said they didn’t know what bills would be covered by insurance and how much they would have to pay. When Mayah was released, they realized that one parent would have to stay home to take care of them.
Christina quit her job. It’s scary to be faced with huge bills with one income instead of two, she said. The move also separated the family: Ruben works seven days a week and seven days off in Uvalde. The couple’s eldest son, Ruben Jr., stayed in Uvalde to attend college and work. Zach, 12, “misses him. He misses our old normal life.”
Mayah is afraid to return to Uvalde.
“It’s heartbreaking when your little one can no longer enjoy the things she used to do and all the other kids can,” said the elder Ruben. “It tears you apart.”
Ashtin Gamblin was working the front door of Club Q in Colorado Springs on November 19 when a person was armed with a semi-automatic rifle five people shot dead and 17 others injuredincluding gamblers.
“I was shot nine times. Five on my left arm. Twice on my right arm. Twice to my left breast. Both of my upper arm bones were broken. So two broken arms,” said the 30-year-old. Six months later, “My right arm is still broken. My left hand, we’re still working on the feature.”
Tasks that were once easy, like walking her dogs, are now challenging and losing autonomy has been difficult, Gamblin said.
She has battled with health insurance, the hospital and workers’ compensation officials to figure out who should pay the $300,000 doctor’s bill.
Gamblin also no longer felt safe in her apartment, as she sometimes heard gunshots outside. She bought a house in a quieter area: “a house I didn’t want to buy,” she said. “I bought a safe room for $380,000.”
She lists other unexpected expenses after the shooting: a flooded basement, a service animal, a new car to go to doctor’s appointments.
Six months later, she is not mentally recovered enough to be able to work again.
“I just can’t be there … I don’t feel safe going to the grocery store. I don’t feel safe in public,” she said. “I have no idea what I’m doing with my life right now.”
According to the Gun Violence Archive, nearly 400 people have been injured in mass shootings in the United States so far in 2023. And 140 people have died in mass killings this year, likely to surpass 2019, the deadliest year on record for mass killings since 2006, according to a study Database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in association with Northeastern University.
“There is a big focus on the people who are being killed. And for that I am grateful. These are my friends and they deserve all the attention and more,” Gamblin said. “The downfall is that the rest of us are still suffering.”
Tia Christiansen has been a marksman in the music industry for more than 20 years sparked the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history at a music festival in Las Vegas that she helped organize in October 2017.
The gunman rained shots out of the windows of a high-rise casino hotel at an outdoor concert crowd, killing 58 and injuring more than 850.
Christiansen was supposed to be at the festival that day. But she felt ill and stayed in her room, two doors down from where the gunman fired.
“The room trembled. It was incredibly loud. There was actually a moment when the gunshots were so loud that I literally instinctively ducked and put my hands over my head, thinking the walls or the ceiling were going to collapse,” Christiansen said. “I completely reconciled my life and thought, ‘Am I ready to die?'”
She was physically unharmed. But her life turned upside down. After filming, she worked a few more festivals until she “had a complete meltdown on location and cried.”
“It was at that moment that I realized I didn’t know if I could do this anymore,” she said.
At concerts, Christiansen no longer focused on the joy of the fans, but on emergency exits and whether people could get to safety. Since then, she has given up her career in the music industry and abandoned her dreams.
Her ongoing post-traumatic stress disorder and need to control her surroundings also affect Christiansen’s relationships with her friends and family.
“My personality is changing. I get very short tempered and very prejudiced. I’m quick to snap,” she said. “It’s a great energy to be around.”
Christiansen, who is based in South Deerfield, Massachusetts, turned to spending. She bought a new bed to find more comfort and relied on meals delivered to keep her from leaving the house.
“The financial aspect is crushing, absolutely crushing,” she said. “I don’t know how many years it’s going to take to pay that off.”
Now Christiansen is part of a mentoring program for the Everytown Survivors Network, which connects thousands of gun violence survivors with resources and aims to end gun violence.
“The trauma doesn’t go away,” she said. “Even if you’re not wounded at the moment, there’s an injury.”
Leah Sundheim, 29, was a night manager at a Las Vegas hotel when she received “the worst call you can ever get.”
Her mother, Jacquelyn Sundheim, was killed in a shooting during the July 4, 2022 parade in Highland Park. along with six other people.
“That flight home broke me,” Sundheim said.
She then moved back to Highland Park to be close to her father.
“I couldn’t be apart from my family,” Sundheim said. “I can never do a flight like that again.”
Mass shootings cause multiple traumas, she said. Her experiences differ from those of her aunt and cousins, who were sitting next to Jacquelyn Sundheim when she died.
“They have the picture and the sound… like they’re watching her get murdered and my dad has the trauma of getting the call and then spending hours trying to get to her body. “My trauma is waking up to my phone ringing and hearing that my mother has been killed,” she said.
Whatever kind of trauma survivors experience, she said, “it shatters the sense of security that you have in the world.”
Savage is a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover undercover topics.