On Oct. 1, Laurie Works' boyfriend sent her a carefully worded email.
He wondered, Works remembers, if she had seen the news and wanted her to know that he was thinking of her. A quick computer search brought up the "news" he was referencing: a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, that would claim 10 lives, including the shooter's.
For 26-year-old Works, every mass shooting takes her back to Dec. 9, 2007. Her family of six was loading into their minivan, ready to return to Denver following Sunday service at New Life Church. Works' 16-year-old sister, Rachel, was the straggler, dawdling just outside the van.
"It sounded like a balloon [popping]," Works remembers. She looked around, confused, and watched as a window of the minivan shattered.
Everything happened in a blur. Works, then just 18, called 911. Rachel screamed that she was hit. Their dad was shot as he and the youngest Works sister, Grace, jumped from the van to help Rachel. Works' twin, Stephanie, slumped over in her seat, blood dripping from her mouth.
Three people died at New Life Church that day — Stephanie and Rachel Works and the shooter, Matthew J. Murray. Murray had killed two people earlier that morning at Youth With a Mission Training Center in Arvada. Laurie Works had actually spent the first half of the service worrying about the fate of a friend at YWAM, before receiving a text that she had survived.
Mass shootings have haunted Works. She has a friend who survived the Aurora theater shooting. While teaching overseas near the border of Russia and Iran, one of Works' students died in a mass shooting. So when she heard of the Oregon shooting, Works says something in her snapped.
"It was just like, another one and we still haven't done anything?" she says.
She took to her blog, laurieworks.com, which she started years ago in an attempt to reach out to other shooting survivors. Her post from that day is entitled "Dear Congress ... sincerely, a mass shooting survivor." In it, she describes taking concealed carry classes three years ago. She hoped to protect herself should she encounter another mass shooter, but ultimately decided against getting a gun, realizing she could never kill anyone. She goes on to say that she hopes Congress will consider gun laws in a similarly thoughtful manner — not banning guns, but putting realistic checks and balances in place to protect families like hers.
Works says she's been reaching out to mass shooting survivors and others to see if they will sign on to the letter in hopes of getting more attention. She wants gun control, yes, but also more research into what motivates mass shooters and how to stop them, as well as more conversations between gun-rights activists and mass shooting survivors to look for common ground. Mostly, she says, she'd like to see mass shootings treated as the crisis they are, rather than just a polarizing political issue rooted in gun rights.
After all, shootings don't go away when they fade from the headlines. Works has moved on — she's active in social justice issues and is training to be a therapist. But she says life is never really normal. She still has nightmares and bouts of panic caused by "triggers." Her sisters are gone, and she's left with a traumatic burden that's made it difficult for her to connect with people for fear of losing them.
"I don't know what a solution is," she says. "But I'd like to see people taking it seriously."