“I don’t want to ever give up on this fight, but I understand why people do.”

Omar Delgado, 45, Greater Orlando, Florida. Pulse nightclub shooting, June 12, 2016.

It was well after midnight when Omar Delgado, who was working patrol in Eatonville, Florida, responded to a distress call in nearby Orlando. Now, more than a year after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub, Delgado is struggling with post-traumatic stress and hasn’t been cleared to return to patrol.

I’m taking six medicines to try and help me sleep and I can’t. I have nightmares every single night. Picture having a nightmare every single night since June 12. I wake up screaming and yelling and sweating. It takes a toll. I only sleep three or four hours night and it doesn’t matter what medicine they put me on. It knocks me out quick, but then I wake up with nightmares. It’s not a way of living.

A friend of mine reached out to me and said they knew a therapist, and I started seeing her for a bit. Then my department said, that’s not working, we’re going to sent you to the University of Central Florida, they have this great program that they use for PTSD veterans. I was the first first responder to ever join their program. The only reason I did it was because my department was paying me to go and I needed money. I don’t know if it helped. In a way, it made things worse, because I kept reliving [Pulse] over and over again every day. It was a horrific thing. I don’t want to disrespect UCF, but it wasn’t for me. It might work for veterans, but it wasn’t made for a first responder who suffered through Pulse.

I’d never seen a mental health professional before and I didn’t know what it would entail. As a police officer, you’re strong, and as a male you really just don’t go pour your heart out to an individual. I’ve been opening up slowly, but it’s a long process.


I’ve been on medication for seven or eight months now and it’s still the same. People say, ‘It needs to take time, Omar. There are people that take years after they experience a horrific tragedy.’

It’s a struggle to get out of bed every single morning. It’s changed me with my family. Sometimes they walk on eggshells around me, because anything sets me off. I don’t go to my kids’ baseball games or softball games or practice with them or take them to the pool. Little things that I used to do constantly are now a struggle.

I’m going to give it time and stick with the program, but I’ve never been in this situation. I don’t know what’s working, what’s not working. I guess when it finally works, I won’t have any more nightmares. I won’t be irritable. I won’t be having anxiety attacks when I’m in a restaurant. I know I don’t live my life the way I used to, and that bothers me.

I don’t want to ever give up on this fight, but I understand why people do. It gets tiring. You can only do something for so long.

As told to Erin Schumaker. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

“They said, I’m sorry, because you weren’t physically injured, you can’t go to the private events.”

Lisa Hamp, 31, Sterling, Virginia. Virginia Tech shooting, April 16, 2007.

Lisa Hamp was in the same building as the gunman on the day of the Virginia Tech shooting. She and her classmates pushed against the door of the room to keep him from entering. After the shooting, she tried to return to her normal life and push away thoughts of that day.

As I was talking to my counselor about the impact that the shooting had on me, I was discovering that talking about it was helpful, and I started reaching out to another survivor who was physically injured.

Last fall, we were talking, and we were like, “Are you going to the 10-year anniversary?” And I said, “I haven’t been to one since my senior year, which was the first anniversary, but I’d love to go because now I’m recognizing all this power from recovery and healing. I’d love to go.”

She told me that Virginia Tech was going to pay for hotel rooms, and there’s going to be some private events for all the survivors.

I was like, “Oh my God, I would love to go. I would love to connect with even more people than I already have.”

I reached out to Virginia Tech and said, hey, I’m a survivor, I was in room 205. I understand I’ve recently been off the grid but this is everything I’ve learned. Here’s my story, I’d love to go to the 10-year anniversary. I think it would be a positive and therapeutic experience for me.

And they said, I’m sorry, because you weren’t physically injured, you can’t go to the private events. And we won’t pay for your hotel room. But you can go to the 5K and the picnic. They started listing all these public events that literally anyone in the world could go to.

I was crushed.

So then I thought, what if I write a letter to the university and just explain how I feel excluded by them not including me, and that I don’t think this is the way they should be treating the physically uninjured.

Maybe they don’t understand how this is making me feel by not inviting me. There’s maybe only 20 of us in the physically uninjured category, so for a university of 20,000, adding an extra 20 people for hotel rooms and private events is like pennies.


So I write them this letter. Originally it was a therapeutic exercise for me because I was so upset and angry. I had just started my blog, so I put it on my blog. Again, in my mind it’s still just a therapeutic exercise. Then people start sharing my letter, and saying, Virginia Tech, you need to do something about this!

I got a message email back from [Virginia Tech’s Office of Recovery and Support] a month or two later, explaining why we weren’t invited. But it was just a response, as opposed to a response to my letter. It wasn’t answering any of my questions.

In January, when the anniversary was a couple of months away, I decided that I was going to go. I want to do something about this. If I want to go to the 10-year anniversary and I want to see survivors, I can reach out to my classmates. I can see if they’re interested in going. So I did and they were.

Then I made sure they were all OK if I launched a fundraiser for airfare and hotels. They were OK with that, so I launched a GoFundMe and I raised money for us to go. I also put together a couple of private events for us.

On one night I got to meet the law enforcement that rescued us. We also got to meet some other survivors. One had jumped out the window, one was shot running down the hallway. So it was just really therapeutic and positive for me, but it was also really therapeutic and positive for my classmates. It was a really powerful connection experience for all of us. 


I get the first couple of days, week, or even year, mistreating us in terms of the resources that were required for our healing. But it was just kind of like a slap in the face when, 10 years later, I’m clearly reaching out for help and I’m told no.  

Virginia Tech may say they recognize the mental wounds and the mental impact that surviving a massive shooting event has on an individual. But in my opinion, I don’t think they understand the care that is required for one to heal from those mental wounds.

[Note: Mark Owczarski, a spokesman for Virginia Tech, told HuffPost that the university specifically reached out to students who were in Norris Hall when the shooting occurred. These efforts, according to Owczarski, started immediately after the shooting and continued through 2011, when the last students who were directly affected by the events graduated. The outreach took the form of emails, phone calls, dinners at a case manager’s home and a victims’ support weekend in 2009. Owczarski couldn’t comment on individual students’ interactions with the university, but he suggested that some students who graduated and left the campus soon after the shooting may have missed these efforts — they took some time to ramp up — or may not remember everything the school did to support victims. Regarding the 10-year anniversary events that were restricted to those who were physically injured and the loved ones of those who were killed, Owczarski said these boundaries were put in place at those people’s request.]

As told to Anna Almendrala. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

“If you’re surrounded by people who understand, then you don’t have to explain yourself.”

Heather Martin, 36, Aurora, Colorado. Columbine High School, April 20, 1999.

Heather Martin spent hours trapped in a small choir office with about 60 classmates during the Columbine High School shooting. She never saw the killers, but she did hear gunshots. She remembers crying, knowing that people were probably dying somewhere on campus. As the students hid, they took turns using a telephone in the office to call their parents.

In the immediate aftermath, I really just hung around with my group of friends from that day, and specifically people who were in the room with me [during the shooting]. I was lucky in that my parents’ house was kind of the place to hang out, so it was like the hub. Everybody just came and we sat in the basement and we would read newspaper articles, and we would get mad at the media for getting things wrong.

Going off to college and sitting in a classroom surrounded by strangers was really difficult. That’s when I started to finally learn the subconscious triggers that I had. For example, I was sitting in class and they did a fire drill. The fire alarm went off. I don’t remember the fire alarm going off the whole time when I was trapped in the [Columbine high] school, but apparently it was.

So I was sitting in this class surrounded by strangers, and I just started crying. I got up and couldn’t figure out why I was crying. I was so confused. Why am I crying? What is happening to me?

I was sort of a pariah. People were looking at me, wondering “Why is this crazy girl crying?” My roommate went back in to tell my professor that I wouldn’t be back to class.

She was like, “OK, well, I’ll just mark her absent.” I was just confronted with people who had no idea. Almost nobody can have any idea, but any amount of sympathy, of empathy, was not there. And it had only been two and a half months.

Then one month, I started to feel like, “Why am I not over this yet? Why am I still crying about this?” I thought, “I’m fine, and I don’t know why I’m still feeling whatever I’m feeling” ― the trouble sleeping, the nightmares, the “what if,” the survivor’s guilt.

I dealt with that for about a year, and at the end of the year exactly, I started to notice that something was not right with me. I had dropped out of school at this point ― I just stopped going ― and I started using recreational drugs.

Luckily for me it was nothing that was addictive, but I just knew that that wasn’t me. Education had always been very important to me. Something wasn’t right. I’d smoked pot a couple of times, but nothing else. So I talked to my parents and said that I thought that I should go see a therapist.

At this point, I think there was still funding to do that, but we were lucky in that my parents knew someone and they just paid for it. I went to four or five sessions with a woman named Mary, and really what I got out of the sessions was her telling me, “Yes, you are feeling this way because you were traumatized in a major way.”

I said, “Are you sure?” She said, “Yes, you should feel traumatized, and you are.” After I got that validated, I stopped going. I didn’t go back to school, and I ended up going into the restaurant business and stayed with the same company for 13 years.

After Columbine, I avoided the news completely. For example, I didn’t hear about 9/11 until I was driving to work and it was all over the radio. So that sent me into a series of flashbacks, and I ended up, somehow, miraculously, making it safely into work.

When I came to, I was crouched behind the ice machine. They put a bag over my face because I was hyperventilating. And that was the first of many really debilitating anxiety attacks.

It took them a lot of years to diagnose my anxiety attacks ― that they were actually anxiety attacks ― I think for a couple reasons.


First off, I had stopped telling people that I was at Columbine, because time’s passing so it shouldn’t matter. This hasn’t happened in like six or seven years, but the cycle was, I’ll get triggered by something ― it used to be claustrophobic, like really tight rooms and heat, because I’m trapped in that room and it was so hot in there ― and I could feel an anxiety attack coming on.

Typically with anxiety attacks, it’s chest pain or your arm goes numb or whatever, and people think it’s a heart attack. My symptoms were really different. When I got it, they felt like cramps. As I’m going through this anxiety attack, I’m telling people that I’m dying and they have to call an ambulance. The ambulance comes out and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, my cramps!” They’re like, “Oh, you’re having a miscarriage.”

They’re trying to diagnose that kind of pain, but after three trips to the ER they finally were like, “I think this is just [an] anxiety attack, because as soon as we give you a Xanax at the hospital, you calm down and you’re good.”

At the 10-year anniversary of the Columbine shooting, Mr. [Frank] DeAngelis ― he was the principal ― invited the class of ’99 back to the school for the anniversary. We graduated, so we [had] never had to go back into the school. So being invited back was a huge milestone for me. We went back into the school. It was more like a happy reunion to see everyone than scared or anxious.  

Then after 13 years was 2012, and that’s when the Aurora theater shooting happened. Essentially as a survivor, whenever another mass shooting happens, there’s a whole multitude of feelings, and you kind of run through the gamut. But the one that kind of threaded through all of them is this sense of helplessness.

I needed to do something to help, because I knew what this community is in for. I knew what’s coming, and it’s awful, so I wanted to do something to help.

After the Aurora theater shooting, my friend Jen texted me and she just said, “Hey, what do you think about doing a support group for the Aurora people?”

I was like, “Dude, I’m in!” So we formed The Rebels Project.  

We basically realized that one thing that we were missing throughout all those years was somebody to talk to that wouldn’t judge you and wouldn’t make you feel bad for what you were feeling, or feel wrong, like something that you were going through was wrong somehow. We figured that we could provide that to a new community that was in just the early stages.

After a little bit, we reached out to Newtown. Then I visited Virginia Tech. Now The Rebels Project is basically an online private group. Every year we fly survivors out from around the country to be together for a weekend. As one survivor from the Paducah, Kentucky, high school shooting says, that’s her weekend to feel normal.

If you’re surrounded by people who understand, then you don’t have to explain yourself. You don’t have to explain why the grocery store makes you nervous. You don’t have to explain why you give balloons the stink eye.  

For me and many of the people that I know, I will be recovering for the rest of my life. There’s gonna be good days and bad days. We recently had a red lockdown at my school. A student was shot outside. I’m herding my kids into the computer labs and we’re hiding under desks, and I’m super calm and I got to remain calm.

And then afterwards it was, “Oh sorry, this was supposed to be an orange lockdown and whatnot.” But that whole week was rough for me. Again, that was a big, big dip in my recovery. I can say I’ve definitely been on high alert ever since then. And then Vegas. And then I went down to Orlando and I spoke on a panel for mental health professionals that are helping the Pulse nightclub survivors and I met some of the Pulse nightclub’s survivors.


And that’s one of the things that we’re able to offer. Everybody has those experiences, but we have the time. It’ll be 19 years for us in April. For Sherrie it’s been four years. For Chelsea it’s been five years. They can ask, where were you at, at five years? Personally, I was nowhere near where they’re at in their recovery. I was still avoiding it and not talking about it and trying to move on with my life.

As told to Anna Almendrala. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

“I remember feeling really scared that he could be around any corner, because we weren’t sure exactly where he was.”

Chelsea Sobolik, 29, Fort Collins, Colorado. Aurora theater shooting, July 20, 2012.

Chelsea Sobolik had just come off a double shift at a Red Robin restaurant when she decided, at the last minute, to join a group of friends for a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado. After the shooting, Sobolik took a year off to rest and recover, something that would not have been possible without Red Robin’s Giving Fund ― a charitable donation her colleagues made with every check to support workers during tough times. Between this fund, the free mental health care she received from the Aurora Mental Health Center and help from her family and friends, Sobolik feels grateful for all the support that has helped her cope, but she considers recovery a lifelong process.

It was really scary when we walked outside [the theater], because we weren’t sure if he was still around. I remember feeling really scared that he could be around any corner, because we weren’t sure exactly where he was. We ran out of the theater, and the entire vicinity was surrounded by police cars with their lights.

Police lights were actually a trigger for me for a long time. Whenever I would see police lights, I would flash to that moment and it would give me a lot of anxiety.  

My mind had a hard time getting pulled out of everything that I had seen and experienced in the theater, and I was having severe PTSD symptoms.

I didn’t feel like it was safe to drive for me to drive for a few weeks, so my mom, who lived in Colorado Springs, came up with my brother and she drove me wherever I needed to go. And she drove me back home to the Springs, because I didn’t want to sleep alone.

It was also really hard for me to be in crowds or with large amounts of people. I was really emotionally exhausted. I had a hard time going out and doing things. I was in a lot of fear of something else happening, which made me not want to partake in certain things.

The only people I kind of wanted to be around were my really close friends and my family, but mostly my survivor friends — people that experienced it with me or were closely linked to everything — because they just understood. I think without their strength I probably would have maybe collapsed, and maybe not have gotten back up for a while.  


I took about a nine-month leave from work. Luckily Red Robin had our backs with that too. We have something called the Giving Fund, where employees and CEOs and managers and stuff basically donate a very small portion of each check that they get. So everybody that couldn’t return back to work actually [was] able to live off of that for a while, which was super helpful for me.

As a survivor who wasn’t physically injured or didn’t lose a family member, I wasn’t included in a lot of the community fundraising. All of that went to people that were physically injured and spent time in the hospital, as well as families of people who died. People who experienced just psychological trauma, or didn’t have any physical injuries, weren’t included in that at all.

Without Red Robin’s Giving Fund, I don’t know what I would have done. I was still able to receive checks and take a lot of time to heal. I mean, it took almost a year to heal. I went back to work for about three months after that, and then found a different job that was a lot more therapeutic for me.

I actually started therapy in August, which was I think was a solid month after everything happened. Luckily we were provided with resources through [the Aurora Mental Health Center]. So anybody that had survived the shooting, or had a family member who was there, or was closely tied to what happened at the theater, [we] were able to receive free mental health care for as long as we need. So it’s basically lifelong free mental health services.


I still don’t know where I’d be without that. That was a huge, huge thing for our recovery. Some of my friends didn’t get into therapy until much later ― particularly my friends who were physically injured, because they were dealing with their physical injuries, healing from those, and doing check-ins with hospitals to make sure everything was OK. So their mental and psychological health kind of got put on hold because of their physical injuries.

But because I didn’t have any physical injuries, I was able to get in right away and take advantage of the resources that were available. And I’m still in therapy. Not as frequently, but I still see a therapist when I feel like I need to.

As told to Anna Almendrala. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

When The Scars Of A Mass Shooting Aren’t Left By Bullets

Sherrie Lawson was in a meeting when she heard the gunshots.

Because she was on a Navy installation where firearms were heavily restricted, Lawson assumed the loud bangs were the sound of people dropping tables or chairs.

Less than a minute later, when more shots rang out, she and her colleagues realized something was wrong. People ran by, shouting about a shooter on the grounds. Lawson joined the crowd and they ran, trying to get away from the sounds of gunfire.


Soon they found themselves in an alley, facing an eight-foot brick wall. Lawson scaled it with the help of her colleagues. Minutes later, the gunman shot and killed someone in that alley. He had been behind Lawson’s group.

“It didn’t make a lot of sense to me until later, when I was kind of given a timeline of what happened,” Lawson said. “Why the gunshots were so loud in my experience, and why I felt he was right there.”

Four days after the shooting, Lawson got on the bus to return to the Navy Yard, in southeast Washington, D.C., and get her laptop. When she reached her stop, she realized she couldn’t get off the bus. She stayed on for a few more stops, then got off, walked to the middle of the sidewalk and burst into tears.

“I think that was the first time it all just kind of hit me,” she said.

The procedure for the aftermath of a mass shooting is by now depressingly familiar. News stories list the number of dead, the number of wounded, the status of the gunman, the timeline of events. In the Washington Navy Yard shooting, which happened in September 2013, 12 people were killed and eight were injured.

Yet these tallies don’t account for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other people directly involved in these events. Most people who are present during a mass shooting are not physically injured. Most do not die. But that doesn’t mean they emerge unscathed.

In the aftermath of a mass shooting, a nation’s sympathies and fundraising dollars are directed toward those who died or were physically injured. Meanwhile, people like Lawson are left grappling with guilt and shame over wanting to ask for extra help, even as they are swarmed by psychological symptoms.

“It feels very selfish as a physically uninjured survivor to ask for resources when others died or were shot, which is one of the reasons why this group of people goes without,” said Lisa Hamp, a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. “We stay quiet because we realize how lucky we were, and how much worse others have it.”

On April 16, 2007, Hamp was barricaded in a classroom in Virginia Tech’s Norris Hall while a gunman fired at the door and pushed to get inside. Hamp and a few of her classmates were on the other side, pushing against the door to keep him out. The shooter ultimately killed 32 people that day, and then himself.

Staying quiet has its costs. After the Navy Yard shooting, Lawson’s post-traumatic stress disorder was so severe that she had to leave her job and her doctoral program. She drained her savings to pay for specialized treatment. Hamp struggled with an eating disorder and subsequent fertility issues, and she estimates she’s spent a few thousand dollars on counseling since 2007.

Usually, when people talk about “trauma,” they’re using the term to describe an emotional reaction to an event. In this colloquial sense, the greater a person’s distress, the more “traumatic” the event must have been. But in the medical sense, trauma is a physical, chemical experience, where a person believes their life or body is under threat ― and it triggers temporary changes to a person’s strength and cognition in order to help them make it out alive.

During this “fight or flight” response, the brain sets off a series of hormonal changes that help the lungs take in more air, send blood to the muscles, sharpen the senses, increase mental alertness and give the body a burst of energy. These enhancements give a person extra strength to flee, as Lawson did, or fight, as Hamp did.

When trauma happens to a group ― as in the case of a mass shooting ― these physical reactions take place in dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people. For most, their bodies return to normal functioning soon afterward, and even though they may experience serious distress in the short term, they will be able to recover and return to life as it was before.

But a minority of people develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which occurs when the mental and physical responses to danger don’t switch off. These responses, which are normal and often helpful in traumatic situations, linger on and become an intrusive, sometimes intolerable part of daily life. Regular, everyday stimuli can jolt a person back to the day they thought they were going to die, cuing hypervigilance, crying, panic attacks or worse.


After the attack, Lawson grew frightened in grocery stores. She couldn’t see over the rows of food; anything might be back there. When she heard a siren or a helicopter, it could trigger a crying jag or a panic attack. At night, she would dream she was running. Fall is Lawson’s least favorite time of year, because the smell of Pumpkin Spice Lattes brings her back to the breakfast she ate the day of the shooting.

And when Hamp returned to school for her senior year, she was haunted by the fact that during the shooting in Norris Hall, her teacher and a classmate took charge of making the barricades and directing the other students to their positions. Hamp herself just numbly followed along. Back in the classroom, she vowed to be more vigilant about her surroundings, and to always formulate a plan to take action if things went wrong.

In a 2013 research review about the mental health consequences of mass trauma events like shootings, terrorist attacks and natural disasters, Dr. Sandro Galea, an epidemiologist and dean at Boston University’s School of Public Health, writes that PTSD may be present in as many as 30 to 40 percent of disaster survivors, and 10 to 20 percent of rescue workers.

And while the research on this point is mixed and still emerging, Galea notes that disasters of human origin ― those that are caused by technology, like a nuclear accident, or those that involve mass violence, like terrorism ― appear to have a “more pronounced psychological impact” than natural disasters like hurricanes or floods.

Lawson’s symptoms were so severe that her doctor recommended she leave her job as a Defense Department contractor and withdraw from her Ph.D. program. She filed for short-term disability and worker’s compensation (which her company appealed three times), drew down a $20,000 nest egg and tapped into her 401(k). She had a lot to pay for: out-of-pocket therapy sessions; copays for doctor’s visits and prescriptions, including a partially covered six-month PTSD outpatient program at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington; and frequent trips to her family in North Carolina for emotional support.

Last year, Lawson filed for bankruptcy over the debt she’d incurred from medical bills since the shooting. This debt also included bills from when she had a stress-related mini-stroke in 2014.

She says she also lost her social network due to her depression.

I had some friends accuse me of wallowing in my sorrow and refusing to get over what happened,” she said. “I was told that I should just be thankful I’m alive. They couldn’t understand why I was still struggling and upset.”

Like Lawson, many survivors have little recourse for financial help if insurance and community support don’t stretch far enough for them.

After high-profile events like terrorist attacks or mass shootings, donations tend to pour in from all over the world to help survivors and loved ones deal with losses of income, or to help supplement hospital, rehabilitation and funeral bills.

But technicalities about who is considered a victim in need of financial help ― meant to protect the charitable donation pool from being diluted by an abundance of claims ― mean the psychologically injured often don’t receive money, explained Camille Biros, deputy fund administrator at the law offices of Kenneth Feinberg, the firm most often called upon to oversee these funds.

The Feinberg law firm has helped, pro bono, to determine which victims get a portion of donated money after the Boston Marathon bombing, the Virginia Tech shooting, the Aurora theater shooting and the Pulse nightclub shooting. The firm is also helping define the criteria for how victims of the Las Vegas shooting will qualify for money, but it will not be in charge of administering the distribution.

“Typically, the people who are covered are the families of the deceased and the physically injured,” Biros said. “Sometimes the emotionally traumatized are included in some of these types of funds, but it really all depends upon if there’s enough money.”

In the case of the Boston Marathon fund, for example, people who were psychologically traumatized but not physically injured were not eligible to receive anything. After the Virginia Tech shooting, however, physically uninjured students in the classrooms the gunman entered were able to receive money. (Hamp was not among that group, as the shooter never made it into her classroom.)

Because of the sheer number of dead and wounded after the Las Vegas shooting, Biros expects those deliberations will be even more difficult. At least $11.5 million has been collected for the Las Vegas Victims Fund ― a testament to the generosity of the American people. But when you consider that 58 people were killed, hundreds were wounded and about 22,000 people were actually in attendance at the music festival, suddenly that amount looks quite modest.

If emotionally traumatized survivors can’t rely on the funds collected after a mass tragedy, their next step is to apply for the victim compensation program in their state.

Every state has a special fund for the victims of violent crimes, sustained mostly from the fines and penalties that offenders pay as part of a court order. At a minimum, these programs are “last resort” funds to help victims with expenses once private health insurance, disability and worker’s compensation run out. But these benefits vary widely.

In Wyoming, for example, the maximum award is $15,000, while New York lists no maximum award for expenses related to medical and counseling care. Some state funds reimburse crime victims for services like crime-scene cleanup, relocation and rehabilitation, but others only offer the bare minimum — funeral expenses, wage loss and medical and counseling bills. And in some states, receiving a donation counts against you when applying for reimbursements.

The result is that state-funded survivor compensation and access to reimbursement for health services are highly varied and unequal.

Last year, with shots ringing out in the dark, police Officer Omar Delgado ran toward the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

“Picture tons and tons of people trying to get out as we’re trying to get in,” said Delgado, who was among the first officers to arrive on the scene that night. “Just riddled with bullets. People were bouncing off us.”

Inside, Delgado’s eyes slowly adjusted to the dim lighting. The floor was slick with blood and alcohol, and his feet slipped as he dragged injured clubgoers to safety. The gunfire continued.

When Delgado got home the next morning, he locked his bedroom door. When his kids knocked, he wouldn’t let them in. His parents called, but he didn’t want to speak to them. “I shut everybody out,” he said.

Almost a year and a half later, it’s still hard for Delgado to get out of bed in the morning. He takes temazepam to help him sleep, but only manages three or four hours a night and wakes up screaming from nightmares. He wasn’t cleared by a psychologist to go on patrol, so he had to give up the overtime shifts that used to earn him an extra $1,200 to $1,500 per month.


After cycling through a series of mental health providers, Delgado now sees a psychiatrist once or twice a month. Before he switched to a provider covered by worker’s compensation, his psychiatrist cost him $280 out of pocket for an initial visit and between $75 and $100 for follow-up sessions. The therapist he also sees once or twice a month adds another $50 to $70 per session to Delgado’s expenses.

“I’m not me,” he said. “I’m not the old Omar.” Most of all, he said, he worries about not being able to react if he finds himself in a situation like Pulse again. “If I freeze, even for a minute, how many people’s lives do I put at risk?”

Those who were inside Pulse at the onset of the shooting received $25,000 from the OneOrlando Fund, regardless of whether they were wounded or taken hostage by the shooter.

When Delgado applied for the fund, which has distributed $32 million to Pulse victims, he was denied. People who were outside the club when the shooting began were not eligible for benefits, explained Jeffrey Dion, deputy executive director of the nonprofit National Center for Victims of Crime, which helped administer the fund alongside the Feinberg firm.

“The was kind of a low blow,” Delgado said. “As first responders, we don’t get in it for the money. Obviously we do it to save people. But I was in need of help. When everybody needs help they pick up a phone and dial three numbers. They expect us to get there and solve all of their problems. But when we need help, who do we call?”

Ultimately, it was the local committee in Orlando that had the last say on who would get benefits, Dion explained. “They’re the final arbitrators of who is eligible and what the distribution plan is.” (The office of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, a Democrat, told HuffPost that under Feinberg’s supervision, OneOrlando arrived at its parameters for distributing the funds ― including the requirement “that the victim applying for funds had to be inside of the Pulse building when the shooting began” ― after considering “feedback” from “two town hall meetings open to anyone who wanted to attend.”)

Without other options, an acquaintance set up a GoFundMe page for Delgado in July 2016. As of last week, his fund had still only raised $1,540 of its $25,000 goal.

One intriguing way to financially compensate more victims of mass shootings presents itself in the examples of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, established in 2001, and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, established in 1986.

In these cases, Congress passed laws that barred Americans from suing the airline industry and the pharmaceutical industry, respectively, for damages ― but also established a compensation pool so victims could apply to get money for their injuries. These laws shield businesses from liability, but still allow Americans who were hurt by a vaccine or by the Sept. 11 airplane hijackings to receive money for their injuries. (However, emotionally injured 9/11 victims were not eligible to apply for that money.)

When it comes to the firearm industry, though, Congress has only done one of those two things. In 2005, lawmakers passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which shields gun manufacturers from liability when people commit crimes with their products. However, the PLCAA did not establish a compensation fund for victims of gun violence.

That’s because there was simply no political appetite for holding gun manufacturers accountable for victims’ injuries, says Timothy Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University and editor of the book Suing the Gun Industry: A Battle at the Crossroads of Gun Control and Mass Torts.

Before passage of the federal law, 32 states had already passed similar legislation shielding gun manufacturers from liability. And from the late 1990s to mid-2000s, every lawsuit failed that tried to hold firearm manufacturers responsible for gun injuries sustained in a crime, Lytton explained. In addition to lawsuits brought by individuals, more than 30 municipalities sued the firearm industry. Most of those cases were thrown out. Other municipalities lost their cases or abandoned them because of state immunity laws.

So Congress took away the right to sue, but they took it away in a context where no one had ever actually won one of those lawsuits,” Lytton said. “As to a direct parallel to the protection of the pharmaceutical companies or the airline companies, it seemed that the pharmaceutical and airline companies did face serious prospects of liability, whereas that’s still very much uncertain with regards to the firearm industry.”

There is one glimmer of hope for those who think gun companies should be held accountable for deadly mass shootings. Five years after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, some of the survivors are attempting a novel legal approach for suing firearms manufacturers. The idea is to hold the company liable for entrusting the public with the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle, which has a high risk of criminal misuse. The case is being heard at the state Supreme Court level in Connecticut.

After a mass trauma like a shooting, countries that have a comprehensive health care plan can put that infrastructure to work for the victims. In the wake of the 2011 attack in Norway that killed 77 people and injured hundreds more, municipal crisis teams reached out to survivors and their families. Later, when researchers surveyed the survivors, more than 80 percent said they had received early, proactive mental health outreach. Seventy-three percent of survivors surveyed had seen a psychologist or psychiatrist, and only 14 percent had unmet mental health needs.

Normally, the news of another massacre sends Heather Martin, a Columbine High School shooting survivor, into a series of flashbacks and occasionally a debilitating anxiety attack.

But in 2012, after news of the Aurora theater shooting broke, Martin realized she could do something to help.

“You know what this community is in for,” Martin said of the survivors. “You know what’s coming, and it’s awful.”

With a friend, Martin founded The Rebels Project ― a support group for survivors of mass trauma events like terrorism or mass shootings. To date, the network has almost 500 members from 29 different survivor communities. Most of them are people who lived through mass shootings, but some lived through bombings, mass stabbings or even the 9/11 attacks. Lawson, who survived the Washington Navy Yard shooting, is the group’s director of development.


For the past five years, Martin’s local group has met monthly in Colorado to swap stories, offer advice and simply listen to each other. TRP also has an online support network, and once a year, survivors from around the country get together for a weekend. A survivor of the 1997 Heath High School shooting in Kentucky once told Martin that’s her weekend to feel normal.

“We basically just realized that one thing that we were missing throughout all those years was somebody to talk to that wouldn’t judge you and wouldn’t make you feel bad for what you were feeling, or feel wrong, like something that you were going through was wrong somehow,” Martin said. “We figured that we could provide that to a new community that was in just the early stages.”

That community ― the diaspora of people whose lives, following one awful day of violence, have never really returned to normal ― is growing larger all the time. As mass shootings seemingly happen one after another, Americans barely have time to mourn each tragedy before the next one erupts. Few people in 2017 are still talking about Columbine or Virginia Tech or the Washington Navy Yard. These shootings, we think, are in the past. But for some of the people who lived through them, they are in some sense still happening.

The Rebels Project has big goals for 2018. Martin hopes to begin a pilot program offering mental health services to members. She’s raising money for that effort, and is trying to take TRP’s story to the media. But she keeps running into two problems: Most of the group’s members were not physically injured, and the massacres they’re recovering from are already yesterday’s headlines.

“When we try to do a fundraiser, we’re like, ‘Hey, you are helping survivors!’” Martin said. “But it’s old news. Society has moved on.”

Ohio Man Threatened Historical Mass Shooting At Las Vegas Casino

An Ohio man is facing federal charges after he allegedly threatened to stage a historic mass shooting at a Las Vegas casino where his estranged wife was employed at the time.

FBI officials said Wei Li, of Cuyahoga Falls, threatened to carry out a mass shooting at a church with at least 1,000 people in attendance, according to a department release.

Authorities said the 28-year-old suspect made the threats through a series of text messages to his wife sent Nov. 6–9.

“There are 1,000 people in our church,” Li said in one message, according to court documents obtained by Cleveland.com. “I will make the biggest in history.”

The name of the casino has not been released. 

Li allegedly sent his wife photos of himself holding a rifle and knives, according to Cleveland.com.

In a text sent Nov. 9, Li allegedly told his wife he’d kill her if he didn’t get his green card, according to Cleveland’s Fox affiliate.

FBI officials said Li bragged that the planned shootings would go down in history and that he would blame his wife for all the deaths, according to the release.

Federal agents conducted a joint interview with Cuyahoga Falls Police on Nov. 10. During the questioning, authorities asked Li to unlock his phone. Li complied but allegedly started to delete a string of text messages. At that point, he was arrested and taken into custody.

The FBI said Li acknowledged sending the threatening texts to his wife, but said he didn’t intend to carry out the shootings. No firearms were found in his home, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.

Li was charged with interstate threatening communications and destruction of evidence, according to the release. He was transferred into federal custody on Nov. 16.

The threats came about a month after 58 people were killed, and more than 500 were wounded, by gunman Stephen Craig Paddock at an outdoor country music concert in Las Vegas.


California Shooter Killed Wife The Night Before Attacking Elementary School

Kevin Janson Neal, who on Tuesday went on a killing spree that left four people dead and 10 injured in northern California, also shot and killed his wife the prior night, officials say. 

Neal, 44, fatally shot his wife late Monday, Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said at a press conference Wednesday. The next day, he went on a shooting spree that included an attack on a local elementary school in Rancho Tehama Reserve, California. Police ultimately shot and killed him.

Authorities found the body of Neal’s wife, whose name has not been released, concealed in the floor at the shooter’s home. 

“We’re confident that he murdered her ― shot her at some point late probably Monday, and literally put her body in the floor and covered her up,” Johnston told reporters. 

The gunman’s killing of his wife fits a troubling pattern. A recent HuffPost investigation found that in 59 percent of mass shootings between 2015 and early November 2017, the perpetrator killed an intimate partner or family member during the massacre or had a history of domestic violence.

Following Tuesday’s shooting, neighbors told authorities they’d heard what sounded like a domestic violence situation on Monday, but had not called in a report to the sheriff’s office. Neighbors said they had heard yelling and gunshots on previous occasions.

Neal, who was out on bail for assault with a deadly weapon, called his mother late Monday.

“Mom it’s all over now,” he reportedly told his mother. “I have done everything I could do and I am fighting against everyone who lives in this area.”

One of his guns, a semiautomatic weapon that fired multi-round clips, was illegally manufactured by the shooter himself at his home, according to Johnston.  

“He can get parts through a variety of sources, and they come together and they can build them in their shop or in their garage,” Johnston said. 

The assistant sheriff also reported that the two handguns recovered were not owned under Neal’s name. 

When asked if there’d been any attempts to recover guns from Neal’s home after his arrest and numerous complaints from neighbors, Johnston described Neal as “not law-enforcement friendly.”

“He would not come to the door,” Johnston said. “Actually, his house was arranged in a way that we couldn’t detect him being there, and on at least two occasions, officers put the house under surveillance hoping he would come back out.” 

Authorities have no clear motive yet in the case.

“You have to understand, this individual was going down the street picking targets,” Johnston told reporters. 

Neal’s attack on Rancho Tehama Elementary School did not kill any children, but did injure seven students with wounds ranging from minor to life-threatening. One child who was shot at the school is still in critical condition.  

Johnston called the school’s lockdown “monumental” in saving lives, as the shooter was unable to get inside, became frustrated and left to find other targets.

“I really, truly believe we would have had a horrific bloodbath in that school if that school hadn’t taken the action, and when they did,” Johnston said. “Early onset, the sound of gunfire away from the school and they went on lockdown.” 

At Least 3 Dead In Shooting At Northern California Elementary School

At least three people are dead and several injured after a shooting early Tuesday morning at an elementary school in Northern California, local authorities report. 

Officers are investigating multiple sites around Rancho Tehama Elementary School near Corning, California, after the shooting spree. A spokesman for the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the deaths and injuries, saying that children had been shot and that the suspect was dead.

“I am told at this point, the suspected shooter is deceased by law enforcement bullets,” the spokesman told Action News Now

The spokesman told the station that he does not currently have information about the victims at the school but that a number of students have been medevaced. 

A semi-automatic rifle and two handguns were found on scene, ABC affiliate KRCR-TV reports. Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston told the station that authorities had received reports that the suspect was involved in a domestic violence incident.

Coy Ferreira was dropping his daughter off to her kindergarten class when the shooting began, and ran into a classroom. Ferreira told KRCR-TV the gunshots were going “for a good 20-25 minutes” and that a young boy in his classroom was shot in the foot and chest.

“He’s a really strong kid,” Ferreira told the station. “I didn’t know he was shot for a good 30 minutes until I got up to walk to the office in the classroom and I saw he had bloody clothes. He started crying and I informed the teacher that he was shot.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) released a statement on Tuesday addressing the incident, saying he and his wife, Anne, were “saddened to hear about today’s violence in Tehama County, which shockingly involved schoolchildren.”

“We offer our condolences to the families who lost loved ones and unite with all Californians in grief,” he added.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted a similar message on Tuesday afternoon, saying he was “deeply saddened” to hear of the incident and the loss of life, “including innocent children.”

“We commend the effort of courageous law enforcement,” Pence wrote. “We’ll continue to monitor the situation & provide federal support, as we pray for comfort & healing for all impacted.”

The Tehama County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. 

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated Pence tweeted in response to the shooting on Thursday.

Here’s What I’m Doing With My ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ This Week

Thoughts and prayers abound following tragedy. We get that part, but what I don’t get is why there seems to be an open season for tragic events in America. Paul Ryan is right: this is absolutely the time for thoughts and prayers. However, thoughts and prayers are a little different for me this week. I’m thinking about how and why the attack in Sutherland Springs happened on Sunday. As I pray, I’m praying for the families who lost loved ones and will have to bury babies and grandparents this week, the church which is undoubtedly rocked to its core with parishioners doubting their safety and, most of all, I’m praying for new leadership in this country.

Earlier this year, the current administration rolled back Obama-era regulations put in place to keep guns out of the hands of those who are mentally ill. In his response to the shooting, President Trump placed the blame for the event on mental health, in what could be seen as the avoidance of yet another conversation on gun control in America. What is clear today is that politicians in America love their guns, but the people… not so much!

So today, I’m praying for new leadership. And while we may have to deal with this president for a few more years, we’re less than a year away from voting out people like Paul Ryan, who agrees that prayer works ( but in lieu of legislative action).

So while we’re praying, these politicians will more than likely resume their daily lives on the hill, without any tangible sense of what the people with the power to vote are dealing with in the wake of yet another mass shooting in America.

I do agree that you can not legislate morality or peacekeeping, but you can vote people into office who care for the needs of the people they serve! As you think about this senseless tragedy, I urge this country to pray for wisdom and guidance politically. We cannot continue in this country with politics that ascribe no real value to human lives.

When Gun Violence Spurred Policy Reform

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