When Mass Shootings Happen, How Survivors Learn To Cope Tragic events like the recent San Bernardino and Colorado Springs attacks leave behind witnesses who try to process what they've seen. Two survivors of past shootings share how they carry the trauma.
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When Mass Shootings Happen, How Survivors Learn To Cope

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When Mass Shootings Happen, How Survivors Learn To Cope

When Mass Shootings Happen, How Survivors Learn To Cope

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. And this is For the Record.


MARTIN: It was a work holiday party at a social services center in San Bernardino. Then, in a matter of seconds, it was a massacre.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: As officers initially arrived on scene, they went into the active shooter protocols, the things that we train for. They immediately entered the building in search of the suspects.

MARTIN: When it was over, 16 people were dead, including the shooters, 21 wounded. On Friday, the FBI said this.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We are now investigating these horrific acts as an act of terrorism.

MARTIN: The attack in San Bernardino came just five days after the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. Different attackers, different motives, but both instances of mass gun violence. All such events leave behind witnesses who have to find a way to understand what they have seen and then move beyond it. For the Record today, the survivors. You're going to hear two personal accounts. First, Paul Temme of Prairie Village, Kan.

PAUL TEMME: It started off well.

MARTIN: It was a Sunday in April, 2014 - Palm Sunday - and Passover was about to begin. Paul Temme and his wife had just had brunch with his mother-in-law, and he was going to the nearby Jewish Community Center in Overland Park to work out at the gym there. He pulled into the parking lot and started to collect his things to get out of the car.

TEMME: At that time, I had heard some loud banging. And I didn't know what that was. It didn't, frankly, occur to me that it was a weapon.

MARTIN: Then hearing a woman call out that a man was shooting. Paul got out of the car.

TEMME: I saw him shooting the boy.

MARTIN: The boy was 14-year-old Reat Underwood. His grandfather, William Corporon, had taken him to the JCC for a singing competition. A man named Frazier Glenn Cross Jr. shot and killed them. Paul Temme ran back to his car to get his cell phone, and he called the police.

TEMME: They asked me to report what I surmised was the condition of the victims and what kind of assistance was needed. So I went back to the vehicle. Excuse me. I went back to the vehicle, and I reported that, at that time, a young man had come out of the building, and he was a medic. He came equipped with a knapsack. And he was trying to pull the boy out of the vehicle and resuscitate him. It was around that time also that, I'm afraid, the mother arrived.

MARTIN: After answering questions from authorities, Paul Temme went home. He doesn't remember a lot of details about the day after the shooting.

TEMME: I haven't given this a lot of thought. But as I recall, I went to the office. If it wasn't Monday, I certainly went back to the office on Tuesday. But I didn't - I wasn't motivated to stay at home (laughter).

MARTIN: How did your co-workers react? Did people ask you questions about it? Did they just give you space? How did...

TEMME: I would say they gave me space. They were sympathetic and considerate. So they expressed some compassion or support. But truly, if they asked me, I wouldn't have answered. I wasn't going into it. And as I think you can probably already tell that, even 18 months later, I'm not very forthcoming about it. I don't talk about it.

MARTIN: That day changed Paul Temme and how he navigates his world. He says he watches news of other shootings obsessively.

TEMME: I do spend an inordinate amount of time staying up on it. And it's hard, I think - I worry.

MARTIN: What do you worry about?

TEMME: I worry about the impact of the daily consumption. You know, I sometimes think to myself that I should completely stop reading the news. I should completely cut myself off.

MARTIN: But he doesn't cut himself off. And he's decided that there is value in talking about what he witnessed.

TEMME: It's something that I think no one should have to experience, no one should have to see. And it's not something that I can describe and keep my composure. But at the same time, I've sometimes thought that more of us should see this. More of us should see the - see an episode like this and to see the horror of it because it's appalling to me that there aren't more people crying out.

SARAH BUSH: I still have nightmares. They don't haunt me quite as much as they used to. And I'm sad to say that I'm used to waking up feeling that fear.

MARTIN: This is Sarah Bush. In April of 1999, she was a sophomore at Columbine High School in Colorado.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: The gunmen, fellow students who rushed the school and opened fire.

MARTIN: It's been more than 16 years since the Columbine massacre. Sarah Bush says every time there's news of another mass shooting, the fear creeps in again.

BUSH: You know, when will it be in my hometown again? When will it be my kids at school?

MARTIN: She has five children. Her oldest is 8, old enough to start asking questions about news stories he hears people talking about.

BUSH: I don't shelter him, but I also don't use the detail that an adult might use. I just say simply, there was a bad guy that hurt a bunch of people.

MARTIN: Sarah hasn't been alone through this. Her younger sister was also at Columbine on that day. The experience has brought them closer.

BUSH: We're still best friends. We live five minutes from each other. And every year on the anniversary of the shootings, we get together and we'll do something fun. We'll go get a pedicure. We'll go have a girls' night out. We'll go stay at a hotel somewhere. But we always try to make it a positive experience to kind of turn the karma of that day, you know, turn it to something good instead of focusing on that one bad day.

MARTIN: Sarah Bush is 16 years away from the shooting that changed her life. Paul Temme is less than two years out. But he also tries to shift his focus. He works with a local arts organization, and he advocates for disadvantaged kids in the court system. And he continues to look for the good.

TEMME: You know, I have wonderful people in my life. You know, I see good things happen around me. You know, there's good things around us (laughter).


MARTIN: Paul Temme of Prairie Village, Kan., and Sarah Bush of Eagle Mountain, Utah.

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