Credit: Reveal
Filmmaker Olivia Merrion. Credit: Cayce Clifford

In mid-September, I stood on a stage in New York after a screening of my documentary Grieving in a Fishbowl,” discussing America’s desensitization to mass shootings. I remember mentioning how people think it’s been “so long” since the last incident. In reality, it had been only a little over a year since Omar Mateen opened fire at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Two weeks after the screening, a gunman opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas, killing at least 58 people and injuring more than 850.

In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, I learned that the way I ingest news of a mass shooting is different now. Before, I might have focused on the shooter and his motive. But now, the search for motive feels foolish to me: Why is everyone trying to make sense of a senseless act?

In the case of Las Vegas, my attention was on the survivors: 22,000 people at that concert, 22,000 traumatized. I couldn’t get that number out of my head.

One of the points made by Heather, a survivor of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999, in “Grieving in a Fishbowl” is that mass shootings affect everyone. It’s not just 22,000 people – it’s 22,000 families, 22,000 friend networks and all their acquaintances.

The first night I met Heather and the other mass shooting survivors, I turned off my camera, per their requests. I listened to story after story about the worst day of their lives. I learned what life is like after a mass shooting – how many had felt wronged by the media, that CT scans can show how a brain changes after mass tragedy. We talked about the difficulties they experienced when friends and family told them to “just move on.”

In the wake of the latest mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, stories of survivors are important because they offer a lens into the future. I hope that my piece continues to showcase the human resiliency of these individuals and their strength in numbers.

I expected to find a group that had figured out how to recover and could show that total recovery is possible. But in reality, how does anyone recover from such a senseless act? Their strength derives from their ability to continue to move forward, in spite of the trauma with which they live. One of my favorite lines of the film is from Chelsea, a survivor of the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting in 2012.

“The strength of human beings is never to be underestimated,” she says.

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Olivia Merrion is a producer and documentary filmmaker who has produced online videos for NPR, PBS, Recode, the Associated Press, Discovery Communications, and Slate, among others. She attended James Madison University, where she earned her degree in digital video and cinema. Her capstone film received honors from the Broadcast Education Association and won the Audience Choice Award at the Virginia Student Film Festival. After graduating, she worked in Washington, D.C., as a freelance shooter and editor for NPR and other media outlets. In late 2015, she joined the creative studio collective 1504 as a contributing producer.