Family members, victims of mass shootings unite at panel in Youngstown

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A group with connections to some of the country’s worst mass shootings held a panel in Youngstown.

Columbine, Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas, Pulse Nightclub…These were some of the deadliest mass shootings in our nation’s history. Thursday evening, people with personal connections to those tragedies brought a powerful message to northeast Ohio.

“My purpose is to now share my story and to share my own pain and share my own heartache in the hopes that I could encourage someone else that their darkest moment does not have to be their defining one,” said Kaitlan Roig-DeBellis, a former teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Five people tied together through tragedy, shared their stories with an audience inside Stambaugh Auditorium at a forum sponsored by Youngstown State University.

Kaitlan Roig-DeBellis was a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary when a gunman killed 26 students and staff in 2012.

“Sixteen of us squished like sardines praying for our lives while we heard our friends and our fellow teachers, my fellow teachers being murdered,” she explained.

Brandon Wolf, survived the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando but 49 people, including two of his friends, did not.

“I heard 45 round fired in one minute, before I could get out the nightclub through a fire exit, thirteen of those rounds killed Drew and Juan,” Wolf said.

Fred Guttenberg’s daughter Jaime was one of the 17 people killed at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida in February 2018.

“I’m a dad, standing here telling you I hope my daughter died instantly because otherwise she suffered and as long as I can’t get those things out of my head, this is the only thing I can think to do, is to try and prevent the next one,” said Guttenberg.

Sue Klebold’s son, Dylan, was one of the two gunman who killed twelve students and a teacher at Columbine High School, twenty years ago next week.

“I didn’t feel that I caused my son to be violent, but I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility that he was feeling suicidal and that I didn’t know how to help him,” said Klebold.

Susan Bro’s daughter Heather Heyer, died after she was run-over by a white supremacist at a rally in Charlottesville in 2017. This was not a mass shooting, but Susan shares the same sadness and call to action as the others.

“Whether it be gun rights, whether it be mental health issues, whether it be LGBTQ rights, whether it be racism, each of those was a wake-up call for the country,” Bro said.

Each of the panelists says they are fighting for changes in gun laws, mental health treatment and suicide prevention.

Strangely enough, they all say they have been harassed or received death threats from people who claim they are Hollywood actors or that the tragedies were staged and never happened.

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