“She and I have formed an amazing bond,” Lafferty said. “Particularly on days like today [after the Las Vegas shooting], we’re constantly texting back and forth and checking in on each other. So it was actually really amazing to hear her voice, leading into this conversation. I was like, ‘Jenna, I love you. You know when to call, always.’”
When Phillips travels to places where mass shootings have occurred, she tries to be a resource for victims and their families—“to let them know what’s ahead of them,” she said. To prepare them for things they might not think to expect. “You’re going to have people who say it never happened, and this was a hoax,” Phillips said. “You’re going to have horrible, horrible things said to you, unfortunately, and here’s who you need to talk to when that happens.”
(The man to talk to, she says, is Lenny Pozner, who lost his son, Noah, in the Sandy Hook shooting, and who started the HONR Network, an organization dedicated to getting harassing posts and hoaxer videos taken down. Pozner told me that such posts were already popping up for the Las Vegas shooting “as soon as news reports started to come out.”)
Another thing Phillips warns people about: “You get triggered by things you wouldn’t believe would bother you,” she said. “I got triggered by the smell of popcorn, and didn’t understand why until I put together that the last thing my daughter ate was popcorn. I smelled it and started gagging, and I couldn’t understand. I love popcorn.”
Lafferty remembers going to a dinner in D.C. for an event, and the dining room was close to a lobby where staff were putting some chairs away. “Somebody dropped a chair and I jumped,” she said. “And Steve Barton, who was shot in the Aurora movie-theater shooting, just kind of grabbed my knee and said ‘That’ll go away soon.’”
If Las Vegas survivors become part of this community, it will probably happen later. Melissa Brymer, the director of terrorism and disaster programs at the UCLA-Duke National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, says that families who lose someone in a mass shooting are typically in shock for the first couple months. “We tend to hear that families begin to start that grieving around that two–three month mark,” she said. “That tends to be a time that they can kind of digest all of this.”
“We never force it,” Phillips says of her interactions with survivors. “We say ‘We’re here,’ or ‘This is what we do, we’re thinking of you.’ If they want anything more than that, then we’re here for them. We give them our phone numbers, and tell them how to reach us. We let them take the lead after the initial contact.”
Passalacqua Yuille points out that some survivors may prefer to grieve alone, or to keep to themselves in the long term, rather than get involved in advocacy work or befriending other survivors. “They kind of just want to live their lives, that’s their way of dealing with it,” she said.