Living in fear: How mass shootings have shaped the way I see the world


Kristen Flojo

Mass shootings in public places have skewed the way Juan Castillo feels about being in public.

Juan Castillo, Social Media Manager

As I walk into the mall, everything seems to be fine. People are walking around browsing all kinds of items. They’re laughing and talking about their lives with their loved ones and friends. The smell of cinnamon rolls from the Cinnabon nearby fills the air. Top hits from the 1980s radio station are playing in the background as people continue their shopping.

I continue my way toward a certain store I’ve come all this way to visit. They’re having a sale, and as a broke college student, I can’t help but check out their deals. But suddenly, there’s a loud bang.

I freeze in place and a surge of fear begins to fill me from head to toe. I begin to panic and my mind starts to race. I can’t help but imagine that the worst has just happened. Was that a bomb? Was it a gunshot? Could someone be attacking the mall? Questions start to fill my head. But as I look around, no one is panicking. No one is running away in fear. I realize that the loud noise was simply maintenance workers fixing a broken escalator.

Since I can remember, I’ve lived with this idea in my head that someday I might be out in a public space or event and someone could decide to pull out a weapon and attack. It’s sort of a reality that we have to live with now. It’s something we even faced as kids in elementary school when we would do yearly lockdown drills. You and your classmates would all huddle up in a corner away from any windows and try to keep as quiet as possible so that the imaginary intruder could not hear you were in the classroom.

Local events like the shooting that occurred in Aurora, Illinois, at the Henry Pratt Co. that ended with the loss of five innocent lives adds to the fear that some of us feel that one day it could happen to any of us. When a mass shooting occurs across the country, it is sad and frightening, but when it happens in a city near your home, it suddenly becomes a lot more real.

Now, as I go through college, I can’t help but always expect the worst. No matter if it’s going to a big public event in the city with lots of crowds and groups of people, simply going to the mall or just as I’m sitting in class taking notes, I find myself in a mild state of paranoia. I look around to those around me looking for any suspicious behavior, I check around the area looking for the nearest exit in case something were to happen and I catch myself looking for anything I might be able to hide behind if a shooter were to suddenly break into my classroom.

On April 8 of this year, a report was released early in the morning about a suspicious individual entering Batavia High School with what appeared to be a rifle. Police quickly responded and the news spread across social media. Many people feared for the lives of students and faculty that were already in the building, starting their day. After further investigating the situation, police reported the case to be a false alarm and that the suspicious individual was simply a student carrying a baseball bat in a bag.

Situations like this remind me that I am not the only one that carries this dreadful fear in the back of my mind. It’s a constant thought that many of us have to live with. At times, it can be hard to deal with, but unless some kind of solution is made to help prevent attacks like this from happening in the first place, this is the sad reality that we just have to accept, so that we may continue on with our lives.

It can be hard. At times, I question whether I should even go out and do things, like go to the movies or shop at the mall. But I cannot stop living my life simply due to fear. These tragedies do occur, and nowadays, it seems as if they are happening more and more often. But if I allow myself to succumb to this fear and stop enjoying myself and just stay cooped up in my home, then I am letting these attackers win. Many of these terrorists perform these terrible acts in hopes of striking fear in us, so by moving past that fear and continuing on with our lives, we are denying them the satisfaction that they seek.

I will most likely still be a bit nervous and anxious in large public settings. I will most likely look around for nearby exits. But I will not let that persistent fear stop me from simply going to school, shopping at the mall and living my life.