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Long after headlines become history, trauma lingers for survivors of mass shootings

Hollye Dexter advocates for survivors and doesn't want them to be forgotten.

DENVER — After a mass shooting like the one in Uvalde, Texas, there are promises to remember the lives lost, but Hollye Dexter hopes we remember the lives left behind, too.

“It’s really sad to me how forgotten survivors have been," Dexter said. "They’re still living the nightmare of it every day, and there’s so little support for them.”

Dexter sits on the advisory board for Survivors Empowered, an organization Sandy and Lonnie Phillips founded after their daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was murdered in the Aurora theater shooting in 2012. Dexter advocates for survivors of gun violence, including those injured during the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School.

“I don’t want the living victims of Columbine to be forgotten, and I feel that in many ways they have been," Dexter said. “Their lives don’t move on. They still have to live with it forever."

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In the days following the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Dexter's mind went to the survivors and the countless people impacted by the shooting that stole 21 innocent lives.

“Every child in that school is going to have [posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)] for the rest of their lives," Dexter said. "They’re not going to grow up normally. They won’t grow up like normal children. Their childhood was taken from them in that moment.”

Dexter also considered the impact to parents, police, EMTs and city officials who witnessed the crime scene.

“You just cannot imagine the extent of the emotional damage and the ripples that go out and out and out," she said. “The trauma that that leaves on everybody involved.”

Dexter knows from experience, trauma can linger for a lifetime. Her brother, Christopher, was a victim of gun violence more than 40 years ago. He was 7-years-old when a neighborhood teenager shot him in the head.

“He survived, but he has lived with a bullet in his brain and has a lot of complications from it, not to mention extreme PTSD that doesn’t get fixed," Dexter said.

Dexter worries about the scarce resources available to her brother and every survivor of gun violence.

"There are services available for veterans that come home from the war, but there are no services available for veterans of shootings, which is our own war on our streets in America," Dexter said. “I really think we need to have longtime survivor benefits the same way we do for veterans.”

Dexter suggested journalists could also do a better job focusing on survivors and telling stories following their long-term recoveries.

“I just want people to think a little more about all of the people left behind," she said. "It is something we all need to stop and think about."

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