‘We never should have walked away from that night, but we did. I called my mom in tears. She booked me the next flight home.’: Capitol Hill massacre survivor recalls narrowly missing notorious mass shooting, ‘We woke up to see our friends faces on the news’

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“I survived a mass shooting. Just not in the way you think though. I shouldn’t have. That should have been my story but somehow it wasn’t. But let’s start at the beginning…

I was a college student at UW-Oshkosh. I had just been broken up with by the man I thought I would marry. Gosh my life would have been so different had we made it. He told me years after the fact that he was considering proposing. Just months away. Even with as good as life is now, he is and always will be my biggest regret.

I had left college and moved back home. I wasn’t doing much with my life. Partying and drinking, staying out until 2:30 in the morning, barely making it to work in the morning. It wasn’t what I envisioned my life to be but there I was. After one particularly lively night of partying, I snuck into my parents’ house at about 4:30 am. I thought I went undetected however apparently, I wasn’t near as sneaky as I thought I was.

My mom chewed me a new one when she woke me up at 6:30 am. So much so, that she told me to pack up and leave. This was the first time in my life that she told me to leave. I didn’t really know what to do. Did she really mean it? Was she bluffing? I didn’t know and I was still incredibly drunk so I did what any normal person would do. I packed up everything I owned after she left for work and I left.

The only person I said goodbye to be my Grandpa on my Dad’s side. I didn’t know what I was doing. A friend picked me up and I stayed with him for a few nights. After that I ended up back in Oshkosh, in an empty room, planning my next move. I didn’t know what to do but I knew I needed to do something. Rather than make a reasonable decision, I decided I would flip a coin. Heads NYC, tails Seattle. I wanted to be as far away from what had become my life as possible.

Tails it was and I bought myself an Amtrak ticket to Seattle. I didn’t know how I was going to get to the Amtrak station, but I knew I needed a ride. I swallowed my pride and called my grandparents. The parents of the mom who told me to leave. I didn’t want to involve them, but I didn’t know what else to do. I needed to go and bless their hearts; they supported my decision. They drove me from Oshkosh to Portage where I got on the train and made my way to Seattle. I begged them not to tell my mom, but they did, and my mom called shortly after I boarded. I didn’t answer. Oh, how I wish I would have.

While on the train, I sat in the Landscape car and watched as we rode through Wisconsin and Minnesota. At a stop in Minnesota, I met two guys my age. They were on their way to Vancouver, WA. One was had dyslexia and was moving there because they had one of the best reading schools in the country and his friend was helping him along the way. Without hesitation, I joined them in their area of the train. We drank and smoked cigarettes the entire train ride. Blowing smoke down the toilet and flushing so we didn’t get caught. Mind you, I was 20 years old. Not old enough to drink but old enough to know that none of this was safe. I didn’t care. I clung to those guys like my lifeline.

In Spokane, WA the train splits in half. One half goes to Seattle and one half goes to Vancouver. I went to Vancouver since I was with the guys still and all my luggage went to Seattle. I was screwed. I didn’t realize it until we got to Vancouver. I am starting bawling. For the first time I was really scared. Bless their hearts, they rented a car and drove me the 2.5 hours north to Seattle. We ended up making a little vacation out of it since neither of them had ever been to Seattle. We rented a hotel and lived our best lives for a few days. Then reality crept in and I knew I needed to settle in.

I found a place to live, with some really great people, and I did nothing with my days other than smoke and drink. We had the time of our lives. I got myself car, met people from Spokane, spent time there, and really did nothing other than live. I spent a long weekend in Spokane. While there, I met some of the greatest people on this Earth.I also went and stayed in Vancouver with one of the guys that I met on the train. We became the best of friends and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. We spent over a month together, every single day. He let me crash in his studio apartment and we had the best of times. Hiking, skateboarding, enjoying life… he never asked for anything, knowing I didn’t have much to give. He just took me in and was there for me. I don’t know that I would have survived without him. Not sure that I should have survived with him either but thankfully he was one of the good guys.

But let’s get back to Seattle…

In Seattle in 2006, everyone went to Raves. Nobody went to the bar like I was used to. Young, old, it didn’t matter, everyone went to these raves. I had been to a few and they were so fun. I couldn’t wait to go to the next one, it was called Better Off Undead. The theme was to dress like a zombie and my friends from Spokane were coming to Seattle for it. I couldn’t wait! Once the night rolled around, my friend Luke* and I went to the rave. We didn’t dress up, just simply ran out of time that day to make ourselves into zombies. But we went, had a blast as always and almost went to the afterparty. We decided to leave early, much earlier than usual, bypassing the afterparty. We went back to my house and sat on the roof smoking cigarettes and drinking St Pauli Girls.

You see, I would have done anything that Luke wanted to do. I was madly in love with him but never said a word. He was the first person since my ex that just got me. I didn’t have to say anything, and he knew what I was thinking. He was my person, I just knew it, but I didn’t want to screw up the best friendship I had ever had by telling him how I felt. So, I kept quiet and allowed our friendship to continue.

But back to the story… that night Kyle Aaron Huff was at the rave. He was invited to the afterparty. He didn’t know anyone, but that didn’t matter. The door was always open. This was the same after party that Luke and I would have been at. The same afterparty that Luke and I would have been sitting on the front porch smoking cigarettes. Remember, instead we were at my house, on the north side of Seattle, sitting on the roof, looking at the stars and the skyline. Not having a clue what was about to happen. Kyle walked up to that afterparty, spray painted on the sidewalk ‘NOW’ and shot up the place. He killed 6 people, 3 of them I knew. I am certain that Luke and I would have been number 7 and 8 that day. But we weren’t. We passed out and woke up to seeing our friends faces on the news because they were dead.

We never should have walked away from that night, but by the grace of God, we did. I left Seattle that same day. I called my mom in tears. I don’t think she had a clue what I said on the phone, but she booked me the next flight home. All I wanted was to stay with Luke, but I knew I needed my mom more. He took me to the airport, we said our goodbyes, and I left. I looked back and saw him looking back at me and I almost stopped. But I knew I had to keep going. I had walked away from him and that to this day is my second biggest regret. In a span of two years, I lost the man I thought I would marry and the man who was perfect for me in every single way.

I wish I could say that when I got home things were better. But they weren’t. I spiraled even more out of control and ended up living in my car in Wisconsin Dells. I again, met people who were gracious enough to let me live with them. I went to and from Madison, Baraboo and the Dells, drinking and partying, not having a care in the world. I was blocking out what happened in Seattle and I was unable to face reality.

I once again moved back home after getting caught up in some questionable things. But this time, it wasn’t to my parents’ house. Thankfully I was able to stay with a friend. She helped keep me in line and I enrolled back in school. While at school I met a girl, who would introduce me to my husband. I didn’t realize it at the time, but all those events in my life were leading me to exactly where I was supposed to be.

I am so blessed with two beautiful boys who are my entire world, a pretty amazing husband who works his butt off to provide for his family, and a community that has welcomed me with open arms. My husband jokes that he has lived here for 34 years and I know more people than he does, and I have only been active in the community for 4 years. I coach basketball and baseball, help with Cub Scouts and football, am one of the first to volunteer for just about anything and would do anything for the kids in this community. I couldn’t image my life any other way. I still deal with the PTSD of Seattle, but I know that God had much bigger plans for me than what I had planned for myself. I didn’t think this life would be possible. At one point I questioned why I was still alive. But then the rest of my life happened and just when I was ready to give up, it all fell into place. Please, don’t ever give up. Even when you feel you can’t go on, find the strength to continue.

The best is yet to be.”

In memory of the 6 people who lost their lives—Jason, Jeremy, Sushi (Justin), Deacon (Chris) Melissa, and Suzanne

*Luke isn’t really Luke. I don’t know why I was compelled to change his name, but I was.

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jessica Herms. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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‘Bullets pinged off the metal gates. I had a death grip on her hand and there was no way in hell I was letting her go. I glanced to the side as people ran for their lives.’

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