America’s mass shooting epidemic

Gun violence has led to increasing response efforts

Comparison of mass shootings in the United States starting in 2014, through November 13, 2023. Data provided by the Gun Violence Archive.

“You never expect it to be your community,” said Hayden Bernhardt ‘26, a student at Bates University in Lewiston. “I just went to the Patriots game yesterday and they were doing Lewiston Strong stuff at the end of the game, it was crazy.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 25, a gunman killed 18 and injured 13 after opening fire at both a restaurant and a bowling alley in Lewiston, ME. 

In 2023 alone, there have been 602 mass shootings in the United States as reported by the Gun Violence Archive. 

According to the Gun Violence Archive, a mass shooting has been defined as an event in which four or more people have either been killed or injured. 

Bernhardt recalled that around 8 p.m. on Oct. 25, Bates University alerted students that they had to go into lockdown. Bernhardt and a group of friends quickly moved to the upper floor of their dining hall where they could lock themselves into a room.

 “We just sat there watching the news for hours,” Bernhardt said. “At midnight we found some tablecloths, we used them as sheets and slept in tablecloths on the floor.” 

It wasn’t until 6:30 a.m. the next morning that Bates University sent out shuttles around campus to bring students back to their dorms, Bernhardt said. The school remained under lockdown until the shooter was found dead on Oct 27. Once the city of Lewiston raised its lockdown, Bates University followed. 

“It could be your school because all it takes is one person that wants to do something like that… growing up, it was pretty freaky. [My friends and I] talked about how that was our worst nightmare. Being a real lockdown, being terrified,” Bernhardt said.

On Dec. 14, 2012, Sandy Hook became the second deadliest mass shooting in the nation at the time as stated by ABC13. A gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary and killed 20 first-grade students and six school employees. 

“The news we see about gun violence, the victims of those tragedies are all human beings, with lives and stories,” said Jackie Hegarty, 18, Sandy Hook survivor and gun violence activist. “Because I survived, all I can do now is live my life and fight for those who died from gun violence. I owe it to them.”

 “You’ve grown up with this, which is so horrific and sad to me. This is part of your life, and it’s out of your control. That is the most insane thing ever.” Dawn Ellinwood vice president of Student Affairs and dean of students. “It’s people that we vote in who have some type of barrier to understanding how we can make an impact…that is the generation that we need to look at, in question.”

This past July, St. Michael’s College Fire and Rescue, as well as other local police services, held an active shooter drill in Sloane Hall, as reported in September’s issue of the Defender. 

Jeff Favreau, director of Public Safety since 2022, said that St. Michael’s College will be using a new program known as C.R.A.S.E (Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events). 

Favreau stated that Colchester School District, Winooski School District, and police departments in the area will also be using C.R.A.S.E., and influenced St. Michael’s College to use it. Through the program, Public Safety officers will take a class that provides information about what is expected of them in an active shooter situation. 

“We’re going to be doing sessions on campus with the Colchester Police Department,” Favreau said. “We’re going to do one session for students and we’re going to do another session for faculty and staff. Hopefully, by the end of the year, everybody will be on the same page with this new program.”

 Ellinwood said that this training cannot be made mandatory for staff and students.

 “We can offer it and we can continue planning as an institution. In the event that something tragic might happen, we’re as prepared as we can be,” Ellinwood said. 

Favreau said that Public Safety is planning on doing plenty of broadcasting on social media as well as their website to ensure students are aware of the C.R.A.S.E. course that is being offered. 

Along with the C.R.A.S.E. class, Public Safety also uses the RAVE Alert System. The RAVE notification system allows the college to send out an immediate notification to those enrolled in the system. The alert system provides the opportunity to remain in contact with those on campus, as stated on the St. Michael’s College website. The RAVE system is tested throughout the year to ensure that it is working properly. 

Public Safety also encourages all students to download and use the LiveSafe app. The app allows students to make reports either with detailed information or anonymously, Favreau said. Students can call or text from the app and there is even a feature where students can be tracked as they walk on campus. 

Public Safety is not able to provide exact details as to how they would respond to an active shooter situation to ensure the safety of St. Michael’s College, said Favreau. The purpose of the C.R.A.S.E. course and the RAVE notification system is to establish the mindset in the community of what needs to be done if the school is put in this situation.

 “Small victories will hopefully lead to a world where everyone can feel safe. My heart breaks seeing communities go through the same thing my town went through almost 11 years ago,” Hegarty said.

Jr. Newtown Action Alliance poses with Vice President Kamala Harris at the 10th Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence. Jackie Hegarty second from right.


The following transcript has been lightly edited for content and clarity. 

What it was like growing up in the shadow of what happened at Sandy Hook? 

I think there’s a misconception about communities and traumatic events. Most people assume that it must be a terrible place to grow up after surviving a tragedy. Our town had a horrible thing happen, but that doesn’t make it a horrible community. We came together after Sandy Hook to cope and grieve. I matured but I was still a kid. I was able to do normal childhood things.

How do you balance being a gun violence prevention activist with not letting Sandy Hook define your life? 

Sandy Hook is absolutely a big part of who I am, but it’s not my entire being. I am so much more than just a “Sandy Hook Kid”. Even though I involve myself in activism, I’m still a person. I’m 18 years old, I love going to the gym, and I like hanging out with my friends. The news we see about gun violence, the victims of those tragedies are all human beings, with lives and stories. Because I survived, all I can do now is live my life, and fight for those who died from gun violence. I owe it to them. 

More than a decade later, what is your legacy as a survivor? 

I wouldn’t say I necessarily have a “legacy” but in terms of what I want to share as a survivor, is that no one deserves to be in my position. I share my story because I hope that at least someone out there will be inspired to help prevent violence. 

What was it like for you to continue to attend different schools and even now in college? 

I’ve lived in Sandy Hook since birth, so leaving for the first time to go to college was extremely difficult. While trauma is an incredibly painful and complex experience, it brings people together. It’s like a giant support system, and everyone just seems to understand my struggles. It’s hard being in an environment where not many people actually relate or even understand my experience. 

Do you feel any progress has been made in the last decade regarding gun violence, especially school shootings? How do you feel about that? 

We’ve passed a lot of really great violence prevention legislation, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more we can do. Small victories will hopefully lead to a world where everyone can feel safe. My heart breaks seeing communities go through the same thing my town went through almost 11 years ago. We can’t end gun violence by ourselves, we need all the help we can get. 

Do you think intense media coverage of school shootings increases the likelihood of attacks modeled off of previous ones? 

I don’t think the media coverage in itself increases gun violence. I’ve always believed that the media should highlight the victims and survivors, not the perpetrator(s). In a way, by identifying the person(s) who committed the crime, you give them notoriety. I think it’s so important that the media shifts the focus from the perpetrator(s) to the victims, and making sure their names and identities are shared. There are certainly going to be people who will see events of gun violence broadcasted and commit similar acts, but it’s still important that the media shows the devastating impact of gun violence. 

We have grown up as a generation for whom mass shootings are almost being normalized in our country. What do you think about that and what advice do you have for people your age? 

I have simple advice, you can either be a part of the generation that ends gun violence, or the generation killed by gun violence. Get involved in the movement, fight for all the victims and survivors of gun violence. It’s our human nature to ignore things that don’t affect us, until they do. Don’t wait until it happens to you, start fighting to end gun violence NOW.