This article is part of the Voices of School Shooting Survivors project, a series by VICE.com intended to shine a light on victims of school shootings across the country.
On April 16, 2007, a gunman killed 32 people and injured 17 at Virginia Tech in a rampage that spanned two and a half hours and two on-campus buildings. Jeff Twigg was in Norris Hall, the second building to be attacked.
When I heard the shots, I was sitting in an engineering class at Virginia Tech’s Norris Hall. There had been some masonry work done on the building that year, so we didn’t quite know what to think at first. But then, as the shots got louder, we could tell that something was terribly wrong. I heard a woman scream, and then the shots just started getting closer and closer. At that point, my fellow students and I were looking at one another and trying to figure out what to do. My professor barred the door, and one of my classmates said, “I can’t stay here. I gotta jump.” He was pointing toward one of those old, metal windows that was probably part of the original structure of the building. So as the shots grew closer, louder and louder, I could tell that my classmates and I couldn’t all make it out of this one window. So I opened up another, and I jumped out and fell about 19 feet to the ground, breaking my tibia and fibula. At that point, I had so much adrenaline that I didn’t realize I had broken my leg. I tried to stand up and then just fell right back to the ground. I knew I had to move quickly so more people could jump out after me, so I crawled away.
On the ground, one of my friends picked me up and helped me sort of hop my way to this bus stop. The bus pulled up with a sign for the hospital, and I was like, Well, that’s where I need to go. I told the bus driver what was happening and went to the hospital.
My professor was killed, and a number of my classmates were shot that day.
After the shooting, I had some minor PTSD issues that to a lesser extent still affect me today. There was a lot of time and money required to make me a functional member of society again. I had the support of my teachers and fellow students, and I went to counseling. I had a good education and time to reflect on all the things that happened to me. At the time I didn’t have the perspective, or realize that many victims of gun violence don’t have such a thorough and deep support network to fall back on. Instead of support and rehabilitation, they are faced with questions like, “Why were you in this part of town?” “Were you friends with someone who wasn’t the right person?”
I worry a lot about people seeing survivors of mass shootings as the “perfect victim.” There are so many other survivors of gun violence who are in different circumstances than I am, and I don’t want people to lose sight of them.
The conversation around gun control is frustrating, and there are a lot of complex factors. It’s almost like there are two conversations happening, and everyone is just talking past one another. There are the people like me, who focus on the effects of guns and people who have been affected by them, and then there are the people who have positive relationships with guns and use them as a hobby or for self-defense. Those people are more interested in the mechanics of how a gun works, and unfortunately we’re not all speaking the same language.
That said, there are simple things that we could immediately do to make it so fewer people are likely to die in mass shootings or other tragedies related to guns, like domestic violence and suicide.
There is a strong understanding in the US that the best time to prevent the loss of life is before a tragedy happens. That’s why we have seatbelts in cars and fire alarms in houses. Unfortunately, that mentality doesn’t translate to gun violence, and I’m not sure why. I know that in states with strong background check laws, gun violence is lower than in states without those strong laws. There are well-established relationships between passing common sense gun laws and reducing the loss of life. That’s something that I agree with. Instead of arming teachers and trying to control an incredibly complex and chaotic situation as some tragedy is unfolding, it’s better to try and prevent this tragedy before it happens—even if it’s scary to think that maybe you might not be in control.
I think the Parkland kids have tapped into a real frustration in this country over the lack of substantial legislation at the federal level to address the problem of gun violence. They are incredibly articulate, and they do a great job of distilling the issue into things people can easily understand. They’re representing the common interest of the American people, and I think that’s why the momentum feels different this time, why it’s sort of a watershed moment.