Cover photo by: Kelsey Smith
Article by: Teryn Dixon
When I was 10 years old, a man barged into my church and opened fire on my congregation during a production of the musical Annie Jr.
Nine people were critically injured and two people were killed. The shooter fired three times before he was tackled by a great man – a hero, and my friend, John Bohstedt.
I didn’t see it. I didn’t see any of it. I had no idea what was going on.
My dad found me among the other children, cowering in the bushes behind the church after we had evacuated. He ran to me, screaming my name in such a desperate way. I had never heard his voice like this before. I asked him what was happening and he told me a guy with a shotgun had started shooting people.
I asked him, “Why would someone do something like that?” He shook his head and replied that he didn’t know. That’s when I broke down – when I saw how affected my dad was. He genuinely thought I had been shot. I was a mere 10 feet from the line of fire.
After the shooting, the police found a note in the gunman’s car explaining his actions. He blamed our church for our liberal voice, claiming that we were the cause of him losing his job. I don’t understand how he rationalized that. All I can fathom is that these things don’t happen for a reason. There is no good explanation.
My family and I, and the congregation at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, have been healing for the past 8 years, and remembering those who died while protecting children and other congregates.
I hold memories that should never burden a child, but somehow I have made it through, coping and attempting to understand where such unbearable hatred originates. The simplest answer is ignorance. Ignorance blinds. It deafens like the clap after a gunshot. Ignorance is my nemesis.
The shooting at my church is one of many violent tragedies that have occurred in my lifetime: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, the Sikh temple, Tucson, and more. Now it seems like this happens almost every day. I look at the survivors with such sorrow, because I understand. I remember how terrifying it is, feeling like I had no safety or liberty because of this man’s sick decision.
Unfortunately, there will always be jealousy, greed, and hate. These emotions can lead to violence, but if people could summon up some compassion and understanding, they might leave behind their ignorance and be able to make decisions that lead to true healing.
I can’t say that I haven’t had dark thoughts and feelings about the man that shattered my childhood, but somehow I have more love than I know what to do with. I feel so much more deeply now because I have had to rebuild myself, picking up pieces of my heart, and finding ways to move forward with relative comfort.
I think the biggest thing that helped me cope was just talking to people and sharing my story. Each time I explained what happened, I seemed to feel a bit better. Honestly, I never lost the love from my heart. I was raised to have compassion for all people and all things, and that never left me. Lastly, while I have moved on from this tragedy, I am still extremely and easily upset by guns, being close to guns, and the music from Annie, the musical we were performing when the shooting occurred. I still have scars and weak moments – I always will. and that is to be expected.
I now give love so freely, in hopes that I will help someone else stir up the courage to push past ignorance, and to come out of the shadows a better person for the challenges they have overcome.
© Teryn Dixon, 2015.