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Aurora Shooting Victim: We’re Not Blessed

Here’s a welcome break from the flood of “thank God I wasn’t hurt” drivel coming from those who survived the shootings at the Batman screening in Aurora, Colorado. One of the survivors says bluntly that they weren’t blessed to survive, they got away because they reacted quickly, got lucky and some skilled and dedicated people helped them.

I was saved by natural selection, and tear gas. That’s right – tear gas…

A man enters, wearing what appears to be a gas mask, and for some reason it looks just like the one worn by the villain in the movie (or at least, that is my messed up recollection of it). It also appears that he is wearing some sort of combat gear, with a helmet and everything. I was immediately a little freaked out, but I assumed that it was a promotional stunt from the theater and was meant to do so. I think I heard a weird popping noise and then a can or something came flying towards us. The girl next to me and I both swatted at it and it almost hit me in the face, it seemed. At this point, I still think it’s a promotional thing. Perhaps it was a t-shirt gun, or some idiot was throwing us cans of some up-and-coming energy drink. Maybe it’s a prank, who knows.

Well, the can landed and our feet, and as Chris is saying something like “what the fuck is that?”, I am smelling it to see what it is. In a split second, I recognized that it was tear gas, meaning that this was either a bad joke or it wasn’t a joke at all and either way, it is time to run. The next second is a blur but according to Chris, I jumped over him to get out of the aisle and we both ran for our lives. I dropped my purse on the way out with all of my cards- insurance, ID, bank card- as well as my cell phone and car keys in it. But the instinct to keep running overpowered any other thought in my mind. “Fight or flight” is an extremely basic human survival instinct to me, but apparently it wasn’t to some of the others in the theater that night because there were only a couple of other people running with us, I believe…

I hope to not offend anybody by saying this, but I wasn’t touched by an angel, I wasn’t “blessed”- I had a good head on my shoulders and I used it. It actually worries and saddens me that most people do not possess such basic animalistic survival instincts, that so many of them curled up on the floor and kissed their own butts goodbye. I don’t want or need to think about all of that, though, because all it does it bring on a barrage of emotions, where I feel angry with them and then guilty and then sad and then run-on sentences. It’s just not a good idea. And no matter how they reacted to it, the event itself was nobody’s fault but that of the criminal who did this. People can believe in whatever they want to, and perhaps the universe or a higher power or something else said “hey, it’s not her time”, and that is definitely possible (I mean, it’s possible to get shot when going out to the movies, so I am no longer ruling stuff out), but I’d like to give credit where credit is most certainly due, and thank the ones who need to be thanked the most because I don’t think they get enough credit sometimes;

If my partner and I had not taken responsibility for ourselves at some point in our lives and joined the US Navy, we would not have immediately recognized the smell of tear gas. If we had not been so sharp, or just born with common sense and basic survival instincts, we would not have ran. If we were lazy and slow, we would not have ran as fast as we did (glad we go on those nightly dog walks). If we were not brave, we would not have kept moving even though someone very well could have been blocking the exit, with another gun (though I seriously didn’t even process that it was gun shots behind us- we both really thought that it was fireworks or something ridiculous but still potentially dangerous). If Chris wasn’t a smart, level-headed guy, he would not have stayed calm enough to drive me where I needed to go and handle the situation. If the medical personnel had not been absolutely amazing, I would not be in the shape I am now. I am not trying to talk down to anyone who thanks their higher power for this miracle (and I will agree that that’s a very appropriate word for this) at all, so please do not take it as such because that’s not what this is about. This is about me wanting you all to realize the immense feeling of gratitude that I have for Chris and the medical staff who took such amazing care of me. From the paramedics and the one who held my hand in the ambulance, to the nurses, radiologists, doctors, chaplain, social workers, and even the pharmacy tech at Safeway, I want you to know that you all are the reason I am ok and in so much less pain right now. You made the pain “go away”, as I had kept begging and pleading for somebody to earlier that night.

That’s rational and no one should be offended at it. It is far more offensive, I think, to claim that God somehow protected you while letting other people get shot and killed. That’s offensive.

Comments

  1. mildlymagnificent says

    It is far more offensive, I think, to claim that God somehow protected you while letting other people get shot and killed. That’s offensive.

    Yes!

  2. Larry says

    I hope to not offend anybody by saying this, but I wasn’t touched by an angel, I wasn’t “blessed”

    Offend away, good sir. You are absolutely correct in your statements and the placement of your gratitude. If any god-botherers are offended by the truth, fuck ‘em. We already know they live in an alternate reality where they thank a magical fairy for sparing them all the while allowing the splattering the brains out of others and think that’s a good thing.

  3. dingojack says

    I was surprised at the number of naval personnel killed in the shooting*. So I guess navy training is helpful, but certainly no slam-dunk in the survival stakes.
    Dingo
    —-
    * I’m guessing there is a nearby naval base/ airfield or the like. (In Colorado? So far from the sea?)

  4. raven says

    Not to mention that James Holmes was created and Predestined to shoot up a theater in Colorado by the Sky Fairy. Who knew it was going to happen and did absolutely nothing to stop it.

    At least according to some xians. God is in charge and it’s all part of his plan.

  5. raven says

    A lot of people have long ago wearied at the usual mindless god babble.

    An earthquake slams Indonesia. That is because god hates the gays in San Francisco.

    A hurricane slams into New Orleans or Florida. Tornadoes tear through Alabama or Missouri. God hates fundie xians.

    Hmmmm, well that is just weather and weather happens.

  6. sc_5b5039dd39eec895ccc71934d4e6783f says

    Ed:

    Apparently Carli has been getting a lot of stick for this, presumably from the usual suspects. From the bottom of her friend’s page that you linked:

    UPDATE: 7/27: Carli’s Official Statement.

    Regarding the Controversy- Official Statement

    Some excerpts follow, but I don’t trust my ability to edit for relevance, so reading for yourself is probably best.

    This statement was written in response to the controversy surrounding me after the shootings in Aurora. I sincerely hope that everyone takes this to heart, and that those people who are trying to kick a victim while they’re down, get the help they need. I can’t imagine what YOUR life must be like if that somehow fulfills you. […]
    So far, the article I wrote has been very well-received, especially by the secularist community. I was told that if I look up “atheist”, I am one of the first things to pop up. I’m not sure how to take this. […] it makes me feel amazing to know that I can be a beacon of hope for some people. However, to my horror, there are many people harassing me, all due to a picture of me that was taken from my friend’s blog, plastered with a small, insignificant quote from my article, and spread around the internet until it became viral.
    Though it has received much positive attention, it has been difficult to deal with the negative attention it breeds.
    […] This is absolutely appalling, that any human being could commit such a heinous crime against their fellow man, and that someone else could rub it in their face for profit or personal gain. People like this might as well have shot me themselves, and I feel that they are just as fucked up in the head as the scum who did. […]
    […] To top it all off is the original reason I wanted the picture taken down in the first place. I said in the beginning that I did NOT want to be used for propaganda or to push someone’s political agenda. I did not give ANYBODY permission to edit the picture, and I had no idea that someone would take a photo of me and, without my blessing, edit it in a way that pushes their ridiculous agenda, and then exploit me by spreading it until it went viral. I said in the beginning that I don’t mind people sharing my story or my boyfriend’s, as long as we were not being used for political propaganda- and now I’m being used as an image of secularist propaganda. Shame on anyone in the secularist community who condones this- this is not how we should be carrying ourselves.

  7. sc_5b5039dd39eec895ccc71934d4e6783f says

    Wait: I said presumably from the usual suspects, but I meant to go back and add a bit that said “You’d think right? Well, apparently not” in reference to the fact that it’s secularists with whom she’s annoyed. See, we’d all assume, as I did initially, that she was getting grief from religious people who might object to her denying god’s role in her survival and/or her contributing to the incident (depending on the fundieness of the person involved). Apparently it’s not that simple. Interesting Sad

  8. tomh says

    @ #6

    It seems a little naive to post long articles about yourself on the Internet, including your feelings, your history, your mental problems, etc., and then complain that others quote your own words and even, (gasp), use them to push their own agenda. The word whining comes to mind.

  9. Chiroptera says

    tomh, #10: It seems a little naive….

    Naive would imply the writer didn’t expect the results; it could be that she fully knew what would happen, but decided to post her account anyway.

    -

    The word whining comes to mind.

    It didn’t come to my mind. If we were to avoid activities where we knew there was a chance (or even a high likelihood) of unpleasant reaction, then who among us would never leave our homes?

    It is neither whining, naive, or hypocritical to engage in activities that is our right to engage in fully expecting bad behavior and then call out the bad behavior for what it is.

    -

    What you say may be true for this particular case, but I think what you say is wrong as a general principle. Each case needs to be examined on its own merits.

  10. says

    I’m amazed at the criticism that this young woman is getting. It’s natural for anyone who acts when everyone else is hesitating to wonder why they didn’t act, too. Personally, I think it’s setting a good example to get up and move when that’s the right thing to do. Even just that is supremely useful.

    I’m sorry that others are posting her words and picture for their own ends.

    This clears up something for me. When I first saw that picture, I wondered at the small, round wounds that looked like buckshot. It turns out, the murderer first shot into the crowd with shotgun shells full of small shot, to cause maximum pain, fear, and confusion. Personally, and I’m sorry I’m such a vindictive person, I think he should be fed to polar bears at the zoo.

  11. says

    It actually worries and saddens me that most people do not possess such basic animalistic survival instincts, that so many of them curled up on the floor and kissed their own butts goodbye. I don’t want or need to think about all of that, though, because all it does it bring on a barrage of emotions, where I feel angry with them and then guilty and then sad and then run-on sentences.

    Many people who survived this are confused and trying to sort out what happened, give it some coherence and emotional manageability. But regarding survival instincts, some people who curled up on the floor survived and Holmes deliberately shot at people running toward the doors. At a distance, it’s a bit easier to say that part of the horror must have been that random, split-second choices that worked for one person didn’t for another.

    Some people weren’t sitting near aisle seats. Some pushed a friend or loved one to the floor and lost their own lives shielding and saving a person they loved. That’s exactly what I would have done. I haven’t even an inkling of a doubt.

    I heard an interview with one young woman that was just heartbreaking. As I listened to her talk about the loss of her boyfriend and her utter confusion during the event, I could hear the clusters of unintegrated traumatic memories still coalescing. I feel so bad for all of these people. Everyone speaks some drivel after a trauma. Actually, there’s a lot of drivel, cliched thinking and biased overwriting, such as the assumption that curling up on the floor isn’t part of our repertoire of survival instincts. The just-world hypothesis can be part of trying to make sense of one’s survival while others died.

    Why is Carli writing all this on the net? She’s doing what other survivors are doing. Trying any way she can to process the events and trying to create a livable story out of the horror she experienced. Is it really more troubling to say “thank God,” then it is to declare that the dead didn’t make it because of something lacking in them? One of the critiques I’ve heard of the God-saved-me people is the negative implication about the dead, but how is that worse than declaring that the dead are dead because they failed in some sense?

    We should cut everyone a break after something like this. It’s difficult to appreciate what it’s like when an atomic bomb goes off in someone’s mind and they’re left to pick up the radioactive pieces. Stigmatizing post-traumatic reactions by people who weren’t there is often experienced as galling cruelty further leaving victims feeling as if the world is an alien place. The message is: there’s something wrong with you. Well, yeah, there is something wrong with me. I was all happy and stuff because I was at a movie I was really dying to see. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I ended up trapped in a dark theater, filled with tear gas, gunfire, screaming, pleading people falling all around me, terrified for myself and my friends/family, while a lunatic committed mass murder. So, please, those of you are so much saner and smarter than me, critique the stupid things I say now.

  12. Armored Scrum Object says

    Like Dr. X (who posted while I was still in the middle of editing this) I’m not sure this is especially laudable beyond bucking the God-saved-me trend. It’s really a bit obnoxious how she continually phrases things in terms of how she survived because she chose to be awesome. It flirts with victim-blaming, particularly when she describes (in her response post) how she “decided to be resilient” in the face of her life situation and how suicidal people “let these things” make them suicidal. This is by no means specific to her; people say this kind of shit about poverty and mental illness all the time, and it has deeper roots in the great American tradition of passive-aggressively blaming the victim for everything from clerical errors to cancer. I’m just a bit surprised to see it coming from someone who openly struggles with mental illness and was undeniably a victim of an unpredictable act of violence. Still, none of that diminishes her right to be incensed by the appropriation of her image and her story.

    @dingojack #3:

    * I’m guessing there is a nearby naval base/ airfield or the like. (In Colorado? So far from the sea?)

    There is an Air Force base very close to that theater, and I think it does have some Army and Navy presence as well. If nothing else, it’s presumably a logical stopover if you’re flying people and/or equipment from one coast to the other.

  13. sc_5b5039dd39eec895ccc71934d4e6783f says

    I agree with the doubts expressed by posters #15 and #16 about Carli’s casting unfavourable aspersions on people who did not act as she did (whether in the cinema or elsewhere in life).

  14. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    It seems a little naive to post long articles about yourself on the Internet, including your feelings, your history, your mental problems, etc., and then complain that others quote your own words and even, (gasp), use them to push their own agenda. The word whining comes to mind.

    What the fuck is wrong with you?

  15. says

    Amanda Ripley talks about this kind of thing a lot in her book _The Unthinkable_. Most people stay in denial for at least a few seconds–sometimes a good bit longer–when something like this happens, because it freaking *does not make sense* and our brains can’t quite process it right away. It’s not a character flaw; it’s actually part of how our brains work. The woman who wrote this said she had Navy training, and that’s absolutely what saved her–she knew what tear gas smelled like and had the background to be able to snap out of the “WTF!?” mode we all go into when these things happen and react quickly. Training can override instinct.

  16. tomh says

    Azkyroth wrote:

    What the fuck is wrong with you?

    Plenty, no doubt. But as far as my opinion of the whiny rant that’s linked to in comment #6 goes – nothing.

  17. =8)-DX says

    I don’t want or need to think about all of that, though, because all it does it bring on a barrage of emotions, where I feel angry with them and then guilty and then sad and then run-on sentences.

    “And then sad and then run on sentences”. A woman who does a “photoshoot … for Suicide Girls or Zivity” and then perks up at tear-gass and then gets shot and then survives through pain and then writes this.. This gives me hope for humanity.

  18. madscientist says

    I can see preachers telling the bereaved: “God couldn’t wait to see your child in heaven so he saved the others instead.” God doesn’t seem so keen on bringing all the preachers in though.

  19. leni says

    I thought her remarks about people curling up were pretty uncharitable as well. Especially considering her military training. But I appreciate the extra context from Dr. X. It makes it a lot easier to understand where she’s coming from and empathize with her, even if i cringed at what she said.

  20. jackal says

    Carli Richards survived a mass shooting by identifying the scent of tear gas and then bolting through a spray of shotgun fire. She’s processing this experience in public, on the internet, because we are in a culture where everything is done in public, on the internet. Parts of her reflections may sound harsh or unfair, but consider: Richards is trying to come to terms with a routine night at the movies turning into a mass shooting, in which 52 people were injured (including her) and 12 killed. She’s dealing with post traumatic stress and survivors guilt. I think we can cut her some fucking slack.

  21. Armored Scrum Object says

    @jackal #25:

    I think we can cut her some fucking slack

    Absolutely. I think we can also cut the people who say “God saved me” some fucking slack. Every person who came out of that theater has been trying to make sense out of it with whatever tools they can grasp on to, and there’s no personal failing in that. That doesn’t put any of their words beyond criticism, nor does criticizing their words demand that we fail to sympathize with them. I’m not saying that Carli should be ashamed of herself or needs to apologize for writing what she wrote. She, of course, wrote what she needed to write to straighten herself out. I’m probably guilty of writing worse things for basically that reason. I’m questioning the wisdom of holding it up for uncritical praise as an antidote to “God saved me” even though it reflects other cultural memes that exhibit strikingly similar problems.

    Upon further reflection regarding my own emotions and motives in attacking her writing (despite being aware of Dr. X obviously voicing the fundamental objection much more clearly before I posted), I think I’m also worried about what will happen if she ever has a breakdown and blames herself for failing to keep it together. I’ve been there, and it’s a very bad place. I don’t know how to explain this properly, but it’s something like having an “‘oh, shit’ moment” on behalf of someone else, when the someone else is a real person and not a character in a movie. But I guess I still, in some sense, played the role of shouting “don’t do that, you idiot” at the screen. I’m sorry if I came off as insensitive, but please understand that I don’t mean in any way to trivialize her experience. It hurts to read her rationalizations because they remind me of thoughts that hurt me in my darkest hours, years ago. I can only hope that her psychological scar tissue will dutifully serve its purpose and that she will thrive and have a beautiful, fulfilling life free of similar experiences.

  22. ftfkdad says

    I was at a Bill Maher show in Colorado last night. Bill started off by saying that, by coincidence, one of the victims of the Aurora shootings had tweeted him about 6 weeks ago congratulating him on investing in a piece of the Mets baseball franchise. Bill then went on to explain how he was giving the proceeds of his two colorado shows (Denver the night before) to both the Aurora shootings and the Colorado wildfires. I think the victim’s name was Alex Sullivan. There’s at least perhaps one more person whose voice was silenced who would have agreed with the sentiment of this post. Kudos to Bill as well, who got a standing ovation when he said this.

  23. dingojack says

    While I can intellectually understand Carli Richards’ narrative, emotionally I keep hearing: ‘if I weren’t so awesome, with my awesome boyfriend and my awesome Navy training (plus the fact we like to walk our awesome dogs in the awesome night), we would have curled up and been shot dead like all those other, less than awesome, losers’.
    Probably it’s not her implication, merely my inference.
    —-
    Dear Ms Richards -
    you didn’t survive due to god, general awesomeness or superior training. You could have had all those things and still got a bullet between the eyes, without any of them acting to mitigate your deadness.
    You survived by dumb luck, others died due to the same. The universe is essentially random.
    Look, nobody blames you for surviving only because of dumb luck, nor should you blame yourself.
    My paternal grandfather survived WW1 by dumb luck, my maternal grandfather survived WW2 by dumb luck, had they not I would have never met them (which would have changed who I am, probably for the worse).
    I hope that you use your lucky break to live, love and improve the world around you.
    Respectfully,
    Dingo

  24. says

    Hello, I just wanted to say thanks for sharing the story, and I would also like for everyone to know that Carli wrote all of that less than, or right about 24 hours after she was shot, so I think that’s why some of it may seem insensitive in hindsight, because all the info wasn’t even out yet when she wrote it.

    anyway, I also wanted to say that I’m really glad you shared or I would have never found this blog, and this blog is awesome. :)

  25. Leo says

    It actually worries and saddens me that most people do not possess such basic animalistic survival instincts, that so many of them curled up on the floor and kissed their own butts goodbye.

    That part bothered me. Glad to see others thought so, too. Some animals, after all, play dead to survive a predator. Still, it’s not as bad as the “God protected me” level of arrogance, though. And, yeah, I’m all for cutting her some slack. She just went through a traumatic experience after all. But then don’t those who say the “God protected me” BS deserve the same amount of slack?

  26. matty1 says

    We should cut everyone a break after something like this. It’s difficult to appreciate what it’s like when an atomic bomb goes off in someone’s mind and they’re left to pick up the radioactive pieces. Stigmatizing post-traumatic reactions by people who weren’t there is often experienced as galling cruelty further leaving victims feeling as if the world is an alien place.

    This is the best response I have read by far. The things people say after tragedy are a reaction to events most of us can’t imagine being part of. They are not the same thing as joining an internet debate for the hell of it.

  27. machintelligence says

    Leo # 31
    I agree with you. When there is lead in the air, “Hit the dirt!” is pretty good advice. There is probably no right solution, because calling attention to yourself by running may be worse. Both responses are rational, and only hindsight is 20/20.

  28. Sastra says

    When people who have survived a disaster which has taken (or routinely takes) the lives of others who are presumably less “blessed” or protected by God/Spirit, my ultimate scorn is reserved for the culture which so slavishly and eagerly falls on this as both proof of God and role model reasoning.

    The shocked and addled are shocked and addled. But heaping praise on this childlike blindness when one is no more shocked and addled than usual is contemptable. It’s done in the service of shoring up faith itself; it’s pointed to as evidence that God really exists and atheists can’t see that because they — unlike the rescued victim — don’t know how to be grateful.

    That’s the part that pisses me off here: the smug social encouragement and acceptability of blinkered reasoning. The general public doesn’t hear “God saved me” and make allowances for human weakness and foibles under duress. No, they hear that and trumpet it far and wide as deep wisdom and exemplary behavior — a reaction we should all learn from and increase in our own lives. Screw that

  29. Doug Little says

    Dingo @29,

    You survived by dumb luck, others died due to the same. The universe is essentially random.

    Yeah, all you can do is try and swing the chances in your favor, which having some military training in that situation would do. This for me was really bought home by the movie Saving Private Ryan. In the opening scene when they are storming the beach the personnel carrier’s gate lowers and the biggest, baddest, musclebound marine cops one right between the eyes before he even has a chance to take one step forward. There’s a lot one can do to try and increase ones chances, but all the preparation in the world won’t matter if you are having a bad day so to speak.

  30. dingojack says

    oug Little – Which ges back to my orginal post. All that naval training helps, but it’s not a slam dunk – you can still get unlucky and then you’re SOL.
    The unverse is essentially random: ‘be happy in yer living, ’cause you’re long time dead’!
    :( Dingo

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