A few weeks before Christmas in 2012, I found myself drawn into a conversation on Facebook and Twitter concerning gun control. I was still angry about the state of Illinois decision the day before to overturn a ban on concealed weapons, making it perfectly legal to carry a concealed firearm in public. The online debate grew more intense as the news of yet another mass shooting in a Portland mall was posted online. I typed again and explained my very simple stance on guns. I hate them. And I don’t feel that it’s necessary for private citizens in America to own guns.
That’s when it got ugly.
Someone said that taking away his gun was the same as taking away my right to free speech.
Another said that everyone should be armed so that we can protect ourselves from the crazies … like me.
And another called me an ignorant, liberal, gun-controlling hippie freak.
As the page heated up and words came at me like bullets, the smiling face of a women appeared on my page. Her smile made me smile. It was a classmate from high school in San Diego. I scrolled down and what I read below the photo stopped my heart and chilled me to the bone.
It was a photo of a friend from high school, Cindy Waddell Yuille, and she had been shot and killed by a gunman at Clackamas Town Center in Portland.
I walked away from the computer as the debate had just turned personal.
I searched my yearbook while remembering the funny, usually smiling girl from Grossmont High School Class of ’76.
I called to my husband and told him the news. He hugged me and I showed him Cindy’s senior photo.
“Look,” I said pointing to the pretty girl with freckles and long blond hair parted in the middle. “We weren’t close friends, but every time we saw each other in the halls she would smile and treat me like a friend. She was popular, but not ‘mean girl’ popular.”
I read the caption underneath the photo.
Cynthia Ann Waddell belonged to the swim club and the spirit club. She was an editor of the school newspaper, and she was a drama kid. We were both in the annual Christmas pageant, and together we would laugh on stage during rehearsals, joking and making fun of the more serious “actors.”
The Christmas pageant no longer exists, and now neither does Cindy.
I closed the yearbook, walked back to the computer, and read about the shooting. Steven Forsyth, a father of two who coached youth teams and started his own coaster business, was also killed, and a 15-year-old girl, Kristina Shevchenko was seriously wounded. (And there was a young man in the mall who carried and had a permit for a concealed weapon. He took aim at the shooter but realized he would hit innocent bystanders in the mall. He stands by his decision not to shoot.)
Then there was the shooter. He killed himself as well. He was normal, his friends said. Until he was not. He had stolen a friend’s AR-15 semiautomatic weapon, which I can’t even fathom a need for, and shot people at random.
I was angry again but had no need for faceless comments about how “if everyone had a gun, someone could have taken out the shooter.” (See above.) How “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” How “if we took away guns, we might as well tear up the Bill of Rights.”
Is armed self-defense the only option to these tragedies? Have we become so numb to these shootings that our only reaction is to buy bigger guns?
Even though I have no love for guns, for a moment my husband and I thought about buying one when we moved from San Diego to a rural part of Washington. We only had two neighbors and were 20 miles from town. Did we need a gun to protect ourselves?
We looked at guns in the paper and at the sporting goods store, but I couldn’t even comprehend having a shotgun in our house. In the end, my husband decided against it. We bought bear spray and an air horn instead. Three years later, I’m sticking to my convictions, as I have no need to shoot an animal and no reason to shoot a human being.
As the news of the shooting of our friend and classmate spread on Facebook, the comments, the memories, and the tears were shared. I learned that Cindy had moved to the Northwest years earlier because of her love of nature and hiking. She had two children and was married to a man who shared her passion for the outdoors. And she was a hospice nurse. One of the rare breed of people who care for those in their last moments of life.
As the news on the TV broadcast from the Portland area mall, a nurse who had been shopping that day spoke of helping Cindy during her final moments of life. Emergency room nurse Joan Smith of Milwaukie, Ore., was one of the people who worked to revive her after shots rang out randomly, ultimately finding and killing my former classmate.
“We had to stay with her,” Smith told the reporter. “She died with dignity, and she died with a lot of care and with the utmost help we could possibly give her, and she did not die alone.”
That my high school friend—a mother, a wife, and a caretaker—was gunned down while shopping in a mall makes no sense to me. The freedom to own a gun comes with a grave price and doesn’t give the owner the privilege of putting everyone else at mortal risk.
Until our politicians take a stand on gun control, I will dream of a country where I don’t have to look over my shoulder wary of a crazed gunman. I will, however, even as a nonbeliever, be comforted by the quote an 18-year-old Cindy Ann Waddell wrote in her yearbook more than 35 years ago. “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13.