Drew Angerer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Shooting Survivor’s Open Letter To Las Vegas Victims: “My Heart Aches” - EXCLUSIVE

By

Cissy Rowley is a survivor of the July 2015 theater shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana where two people were killed and nine injured. She is a member of the Everytown Survivor Network.

To the victims and survivors of Las Vegas:

I have been thinking of you every day this week.

Like many Americans, I have been thinking of the 58 people who lost their lives. You were sons and daughters, husbands and wives, parents, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. You had important things to accomplish in this life that you will not get to finish. You made an impact on your community, your friends and family, and you will be terribly missed and mourned. The anger and grief your loved ones feel over your life being senselessly ended, by a man with easy access to weapons and countless rounds of ammunition, will never go away.

I have been thinking of you because I am one of you.

I have been thinking about the more than 500 victims who were wounded. Bullets maim when they don’t kill, and gunshot wounds are painful and traumatic. Your injuries will take years of mental and physical recovery, and your family and friends are still horrified at the prospect of almost losing you. Your life will forever be delineated by the “before” and “after” of the shooting as you struggle to find the new normal.

I have been thinking of those of you who were there but escaped physical harm. You hid, you ran. Or, by sheer luck, a bullet missed you. Your lives are also permanently altered as you struggle with the terrifying question of “what if?”

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

You will jump at doors slamming, scan the room for suspicious people and points of exit, and avoid crowded places. You have seen chaos and carnage first hand — the moment when everything is fine and then suddenly it is not and your life is in danger. There is no returning from this place of living through a mass shooting.

I know.

I was shot twice in the leg by an angry and misogynistic gunman in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana on July 23, 2015. A bullet whizzed past my head and sliced through my thigh and calf as I struggled to figure what the loud pops were and where they were coming from. It shattered my tibia on its way out of my ankle, leaving me unable to run when the gunman reloaded and movie patrons tried to escape. I crawled to safety, out of the theater to the parking lot where chaos ensued as hundreds of people fled to their cars, unsure of who was shooting. Good Samaritans put pressure on my bleeding bullet holes and carried me to an ambulance while police swarmed the theater.

We don’t have to live like this.

As Americans, we are quick to boast our freedom and civil liberties. Yet unlike any other developed nation, our gun homicide rate is more than 25 times the average of other high-income countries, and we live with the reality that 93 Americans are killed by guns and hundreds more are injured every day. Our movies begin with a PSA about keeping an eye out for suspicious people in the theater. We feel compelled to stockpile firearms and ammunition and keep loaded guns in our cars, nightstands, and on our hips in case of danger. Our school children practice locking the classroom door and hiding under their desks — quiet and still — in case a madman decides to enter the school armed. Our response has become to live in fear rather than make changes.

We don’t have to live like this. The time is now to call on our members of Congress to act. We can no longer be satisfied with their empty offers of thoughts, prayers, and moments of silence. Innocent American lives are at stake and we cannot afford to sustain this inaction.

The current administration says it’s too soon to talk about solutions to this uniquely American problem — but I say it’s too late.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Two women died in the theater I was in, Jillian Johnson and Mayci Breaux. Bright, creative, and joyful women who will forever be mourned by their family and community.

Every time another shooting makes the headlines, I am reminded of the trauma and chaos of that day in the movie theater. My heart aches for the victims and survivors, because I know firsthand that in those horrifying moments you felt the same terror that I felt. And I know no family, no person, no community should ever have to endure the heartbreak of gun violence.

I can promise you that I will never accept this carnage as normal. I won’t stop advocating for change until our elected officials feel the same way and take meaningful action to end gun violence in this country.

Join me and use your voice to tell Congress to #RejectTheNRA and their radical agenda. Texting REJECT to 644-33 will get you connected to your lawmaker. And also, learn what you can do to get involved locally.

This is not freedom. This is captivity — by the NRA and the gun lobby — and it must end so that not one more life is lost, not one more family mourns, not one more person struggles through the physical and psychological scars of a gunshot wound. Not one more citizen lives through the terror of a mass shooting. And not one more American reads about yet another tragedy.