Teen gun violence survivor heals through activism

Before she was shot in the stomach at Saugus High School, Mia Tretta volunteered at a Los Angeles food bank every Thanksgiving.

On November 14, 2019, in the minutes before a ghost gun bullet hit her, Mia was on the phone with her mother, Tiffany Shepis-Tretta. They were trying to figure out a day when Mia could skip school to pack boxes of groceries without missing a test. She just started class after being dropped off on the Santa Clarita campus by her grandmother.

So carefree, Tiffany thinks now, remembering her daughter as a freshman. So hard to imagine how small the problems were.

Seconds after Mia hung up the phone, a fellow student pulled out a .45 caliber semi-automatic — made from a kit sold by a still-operating internet shop in Chula Vista — and fired at the quad.

He killed two students, including Mia’s best friend Dominic Blackwell, and wounded three before taking his own life. Hurt and dazed, Mia ran into a classroom.

Students head to a reunion area after a gunman opened fire on their campus.

Students head to a reunion area after a gunman opened fire at Saugus High in November 2019.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Most of us barely remember the Saugus High shooting, headlines, when it happened three years ago. And why should we? Since then, there have been many more school shootings and hundreds of gun violence incidents in California and across the country this year alone. The Gun Violence Archive puts the number in 2022 so far at more than 600 – including 21 dead in Uvalde, Texas and 10 gunned down at a grocery store in Buffalo, NY

Colorado Springs, Colorado was the new headline, five dead Saturday night at an LGBTQ club. Then Tuesday night brought another horror. Seven people died in a Virginia Walmart, including the gunman who fired his last shot at himself.

Can you name the others at all? Remember April when a gunman injured 10 in a New York City subway car? Or May when an angry man killed one and wounded four at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods?

Or June in Oklahoma, when another gunman killed five at a medical center and left others with “non-life-threatening injuries,” which is really just a cold and careless way of welcoming a life of trauma, both for the victim and those they love.

“You can’t wait to take care of it until it happens to you,” Mia told me on Tuesday. And if telling her story to bring this point home catches the attention of just one person, it’s worth the salt in the wound to dig up the details, she said.

“At the rate at which gun violence is happening now, everyone is going to know someone, everyone is going to be touched by gun violence,” she said. “The whole world hurts. All these shootings that happen over and over again are hard on me. But it’s also so incredibly hard for our whole country.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom during a press conference at Santa Monica College on July 22, 2022.

Gov. Gavin Newsom wipes away a tear after thinking of his own daughter as gun violence survivor Mia Tretta, left, shared her story before he passed Senate Bill 1327, post-defunct gun legislation, at Santa Monica College on July 22 Model of the Texas ban on abortion, signed. Tretta was wounded and her best friend was killed in the 2019 Saugus High School shooting.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

She’s a senior now, still at Saugus High, but spends much of her time advocating gun flair with organizations like Students Demand Action. These past few weeks, with the shootings in Colorado and Virginia, the pressure of a holiday to mark gratitude, and the three-year anniversary of the Saugus shooting, have been tough — for Mia’s entire family.

“First and foremost, on the big scale of something like this, we’re lucky because she’s here. She’s with us,’ Tiffany said. “These are the things you think about when the holidays come around. I think about [Dominic’s] Family.”

Mia worries people don’t even remember him — the 14-year-old curly-haired boy who “wasn’t afraid of anything,” Tiffany said. He and Mia had an 8 minute secret handshake they were going to do everyone times they met, Mia said.

A man wears a shirt with the name of a boy killed in the Saugus High shooting.

People gather in Central Park in Santa Clarita to commemorate those killed and wounded in the Saugus High School shooting.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

He wore a SpongeBob t-shirt almost every day. When he first met Tiffany at a department store, “he shook my hand really hard and said, ‘I just want you to know that I’m Mia’s boyfriend,’ and then ran away laughing,” Tiffany said.

Mia loved him and he’s gone, killed when they walked together, just another day until it wasn’t anymore.

But as much as we mourn the dead, the living are just as important. Gun violence is a terrible, tragic moment for those who die. It’s a life of pain for those who live.

Tiffany remembers the morning Mia was shot and wasn’t really worried even when she heard something was going on at the high school. She decided to drive over and check. On the way, she received a text message from a number she didn’t recognize.

“Hi mom, I don’t know if you heard, but there was a shooting. Tell Max to chew with his mouth closed,” it said. Max is Mia’s little brother, in first grade when the shooting happened, and an open eater at the dinner table, much to his big sister’s dismay.

Tiffany realized something was wrong and called the number. Much of what happened is blurry, but she remembers asking the person who answered if everything was okay and being told Mia had been shot. “Do you want to talk to her?” They asked.

Gun control activist Mia Tretta.

Gun control activist Mia Tretta.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Mia sounded “as normal as can be,” Tiffany said. “Thank goodness for shock and adrenaline. I feel like if she had sounded in pain I would have collapsed.”

Somehow Tiffany called her husband Sean and they arrived at the school almost at the same time while Mia was wheeled out on a stretcher. There was a helicopter flight to the trauma center, and although the bullet missed a major artery by millimeters, “we knew pretty quickly she would be fine,” she said.

“But when you have to tell a kid that their best friend was killed, you immediately see the innocence draining from them,” she said.

Mia is still struggling physically from being shot – she will have another procedure in the coming months. But emotional recovery is more difficult.

“For a long time I was very, very numb,” Mia said. “Trauma is a roller coaster. It doesn’t end and isn’t static.”

Tiffany felt the shock too, and still does.

“You try to live a little harder, you try to love more, you try not to give up things that you would have had in the past,” she said. “As a parent, you have to keep going. You gotta pick it up and hold it together. They will break up one day when they are married and have children of their own. It’s tough.”

A family gathers at a memorial in front of Saugus High School in 2019.

A family gathers at a memorial to Gracie Anne Muehlberger and Dominic Blackwell in front of Saugus High School in 2019.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

One of the hardest parts is how political shootings turned out. If your child is in a car accident, according to Tiffany, the only response is sympathy and kindness.

“You say my kid was shot in a school shooting, everyone has an opinion,” Tiffany said. “It’s the only thing polarizing, and it’s really unfair. They talk about the life and safety of children.”

Mia now has a service dog, a golden retriever named Randy, who goes to school with her and can wake her from nightmares. She has PTSD. Popping balloons scare her, and Max knows better than to run to her and scare her like he liked to do before the shooting.

But Mia also discovered something about her pain.

“I realized very early on that sitting in bed and crying does me just as much good as going out and trying to make a change,” she said.

Mia travels the country talking about gun rights. Not long ago she was with the White House for an event with President Biden. And she voted for the first time a few weeks ago – all candidates she trusts to share her values. Recently, after the school shooting in Uvalde, she held a strike at Saugus High. It didn’t go down well in the conservative enclave of Santa Clarita.

“People were holding up Trump flags and throwing things at us,” she said. “It’s a whitewash, a kind of attempt to pretend that that didn’t happen in ‘Awesometown’,” as one neighborhood called itself.

It’s Mia’s perseverance that gives me hope.

I’m pretty sure the so-called adults aren’t going to solve America’s gun problem any time soon. Even in California, with some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, we face the stone wall of those who genuinely believe they will one day need their guns to overthrow our government, and any attempt to restrict gun rights risks that garbled notion Patriotism.

But the kids have a chance.

“Gen Z will get rid of them,” Tiffany said, speaking of the politicians who believe their selfish worship of the Second Amendment is more important than our children.

“I don’t just see it in my daughter,” she said. “I see it when she goes and meets with other youth groups [activists]. You recognize the significant problem we have with guns in this county. I have a lot of hope for them and it’s unfortunate that we had to burn everything down so they could rebuild it.”

Mia doesn’t want her whole life to revolve around guns. She is 18 years old and applying to college. She dreams of Stanford and they are lucky to have her. And she and her mom are volunteering again for Thanksgiving, preparing meals for motel residents this year.

But Mia is in this fight to win it, as are so many of her peers who, as Tiffany puts it, “don’t give a shit”.

“These are changers,” Mia says of other young survivors she’s met.

“They’re fighting for exactly the same thing,” she said, whether they’re focusing on climate change, reproductive rights, or other issues that seem so insurmountable and contentious — “to be safe and happy and loved and not afraid.” .”

“It’s not too much to ask,” she said.

No, Mia, it’s not. I wish we could win this fight for you and leave you a better world. Or at least one in which massacres don’t come and go from our consciousness like thieves, stealing a bit of our ability to feel each time.

But I’m grateful you’re not waiting for us to catch up. And I’m grateful that despite everything you’ve lost, you didn’t give up on us.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-24/column-the-whole-world-is-hurting Teen gun violence survivor heals through activism

Alley Einstein

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