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June 14, 2013

I Survived

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Photo Credit: Peter Hapak

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EMMA MCMAHON, 20

Tucson, Arizona
January 8, 2011


McMahon, now an incoming Wellesley College sophomore, was at Safeway to see Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire, killing six and wounding 13, including Giffords.

I'd been a congressional page for Gabby Giffords and wanted to have my photo taken with her. I put on a nice dress and piled into our minivan with my parents and brother. We got on line behind an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Stoddard. Soon I heard sounds like fireworks—then screaming. Suddenly I was on the ground. I jumped up and called 911. While on hold, I saw my mother covered in blood and thought she was going to die.

I don't remember talking to the operator. I know the recording is online, but I can't bear to listen. After I hung up, I saw Mrs. Stoddard weeping, her husband's head in her lap. I knew he was dead.

Neither my mom nor I remember her throwing me against the wall. But we learned that she'd been shot three times while shielding me. One bullet was touching her spine. Miraculously, it moved, so surgery wasn't necessary. She has since recovered but still experiences daily pain.

The hardest thing was taking care of her while she got better. I always felt safe with my mom. And then she was weak and needed me. Counseling helped. I decided that if you let acts of terrorism ruin your ability to enjoy life, then they win. Love is stronger than hate.

But our laws must be, too. If there had been an assault weapons ban, my mother might not have been hurt. Mr. Stoddard might be alive. I'm still in touch with his widow. She's part of my second family. You don't get to pick who your family is. And you don't get to pick your second family, either. But our bonds are unbreakable. @emmaemcmahon


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