Surviving Gun Violence: Moving Photos You Have To See

Photo: Courtesy of Kathy Shorr/SHOT.
This story was originally published in April, but since then there have been 216 mass shootings in the United States (as defined by Mass Shootings Tracker as an event where three or more people are injured by gun violence), and the subject matter feels pertinent again. This week, Oregon was rocked by a rampage at a community college, and President Obama responded with his most hopeless speech to date: "Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We've become numb to this." In an effort to regain feeling, to bring faces and names and lived experiences to the gun-violence epidemic, we're reposting Kathy Shorr's photo series, which, sadly, will always feel timely.

Originally published on April 11, 2015.

Estefania was sitting on her sister's sofa watching TV when a bullet flew through the window, striking her in the face. Sahar was traversing Times Square when police, in pursuit of a criminal, missed him and shot her. Moni was at the movies in Aurora, CO on that day in 2012. All three women survived.

This year, an estimated 32,514 people will die as a result of gunshot wounds in the United States — and over 500 of them will be women shot at the hands of an intimate partner. The statistics are grim, to be sure. But, in discussing them, we often overlook another population: those who get shot and live.

In her series, SHOT, New York City-based photographer Kathy Shorr is bringing to light life after violence. For some of her subjects, that includes prominent scars, which she lets rip across the frame. For others, only invisible wounds remain, but each woman assumes the prideful posture of a survivor who knows what it is to overcome.

“That’s what SHOT is about: looking at — really seeing — the people that gun violence affects, and seeing people from all over the country that have been shot. That’s much more powerful than hearing that two-thirds of gunshot victims survive. It’s too abstract. It loses meaning,” Shorr tells us.

Of course, her subjects are the lucky ones. According to a 2003 study cited by RH Reality Check, women in domestic violence situations are 500% more likely to be killed when there's a gun in the home — even if the gun is the woman’s own — and American children and teens die gun-related deaths at a rate of eight per day. Though surviving scarred and wounded by gun violence is statistically more likely than a fatal outcome, stories of survival receive much less attention from the media, which is part of what inspired Shorr's series.

As a teacher, Shorr watched her students memorialize the peers they'd lost to gun violence. “[The victims] kind of turned into these mini folk heroes...and I started really thinking about how the survivors have to dust themselves off and go on with their lives, [without that same] respect or admiration.”

Aside from a preoccupation with fatalities, the media delivers news of police-perpetrated murders and dramatic gang shootouts with appalling frequency. Mishandled, the coverage of those now heinously common incidents can perpetuate a myth that gun violence only happens within certain segments of the population, and that a wrong-side-of-the-tracks lifestyle is a necessary part of the narrative. Shorr's series reveals something even more dismaying: This trauma can happen to anyone; bullets maim innocent people on a daily basis.

“People from all parts of America, all different groups, can look at the individual portraits and say, ‘Oh, that woman is just like me… That could have happened to me,’" she says, explaining that she has photographed men, women, and youths from all different backgrounds. "So, there can be a connection between people who have not been affected by gun violence with people that have been, to see that it could happen to anybody.”

For the series, Shorr brought the women featured ahead, and most of her subjects, back to the places where they were shot — some for the first time since the traumatic event. The photographer is currently fundraising to support her cross-country travel, and plans to capture 100 survivors before completing the project and releasing it as a book later this year. And then, she hopes people will start talking.

"We have to start [a] dialogue," she says. She hopes viewers will look at the images and say, "'This is a problem we have in this country — a serious problem — how do we come together as Americans to figure out the best way to make this acceptable for everybody?'"

As for her own view on the subject, Shorr isn't out to campaign for either side of an issue that she considers full of "gray area." She wants to start a conversation — one in which she doesn't necessarily feel compelled to take part. “It’s not me who has to say something about it — I think the voice of the survivor is the voice that has to be heard.” Unequivocally, she says, “The pictures will tell the story.”
Ed. note: The images and anecdotes to follow contain sensitive material that may be triggering to some.
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Photo: Courtesy of Kathy Shorr/SHOT.
Shot on the bridge of her nose while sitting in the living room of her sister's house watching TV, by someone shooting at the house next door. Dallas, TX, 2009

"The project, in order to be successful, has to be very diverse. The thing about gun violence is that a lot of times it’s either very random, or very specific. In a case such as domestic violence, it’s very specific. A lot of other shootings are random, wrong place, wrong time scenarios." — Kathy Shorr
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Photo: Courtesy of Kathy Shorr/SHOT.
Shot when she was 16 years old, while standing outside of her high school talking with friends. A car drove by the group and fired one shot. She was the unintended victim of gang retaliation. Aurora, CO, 2010

"I had been thinking about survivors and how strong they are, and how amazing they are to survive something and to push on with their lives." — Kathy Shorr
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Photo: Courtesy of Kathy Shorr/SHOT.
Activist, writer, and blogger, shot during the Mother’s Day shootings while covering the second line parade. She has undergone nearly 30 surgeries to repair the damage. New Orleans, 2013

"To go back to the space where this dreadful thing happened, and to take ownership of the space, means that you have taken control of the situation — you have gone there and said ‘I’m here, I have gone through this; you didn’t get me. I’m okay.’ I think it is very empowering for people to stand where they were shot, in that location, and to take the space back." — Kathy Shorr
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Photo: Courtesy of Kathy Shorr/SHOT.
Shot through the heart by her husband of 41 years. Canoga Park, CA, 1999

"The negative part of the project is to hear pretty horrific stories, and to try to understand why people would do the things that they do. In particular, one of the things that I find the most disturbing is the domestic violence aspect… To think that the person who was closest to you in your entire life would try to kill you… They shoot in the head or torso, and they mean to kill. As a woman, that’s really something that is very powerful." — Kathy Shorr
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Photo: Courtesy of Kathy Shorr/SHOT.
Shot by her sister's boyfriend. Newport News, VA, 2014

"People kind of look at the camera and, I think, for the most part what comes out is strength. The thing that’s coming out, for me, is their strength, and that’s perfect; I couldn’t ask for anything more than that." — Kathy Shorr
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Photo: Courtesy of Kathy Shorr/SHOT.
Shot while walking through Times Square in the early evening with her cousin, on the way to a movie. Police were chasing a suspect, fired at him, and missed, hitting Sahar. New York City, 2013

"We need people who can see both sides — who have empathy to know other people might think differently than them, and this is what’s missing in most of the rhetoric on gun violence." — Kathy Shorr
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Photo: Courtesy of Kathy Shorr/SHOT.
Shot while attending the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises at a movie theater. Her friend who was sitting next to her was killed. Aurora, CO, 2012

"It can happen to a man or a woman, a young person or an old person. Randomness is just that: It can happen to anybody." — Kathy Shorr

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Photo: Courtesy of Kathy Shorr/SHOT.
Shot in the head by her husband in a Walmart parking lot. Garland, TX, 2007

"Not everybody that owns a gun is a terrible, crazed person that’s going to shoot somebody, [and] not everybody in the project wants to ban guns… If you had all 100 people together in a room, you’d have a bunch of diverse opinions on the subject." — Kathy Shorr
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Photo: Courtesy of Kathy Shorr/SHOT.
Shot in the head by a friend at age 13. Her friend's father had left a gun out, which his daughter began playing with, not knowing it was loaded. It went off, and Ally was hit. Lee’s Summit, MO, 2012

"A young person’s identity hasn’t really been formed before they were shot, so they might develop into somebody because of this that they haven’t become already… For an older person, what happens is they change or transform…they move in a different direction. Or, things that they didn’t think they had before suddenly come out. Like, a woman might not think she’s a strong person, but sees how strong she really is." — Kathy Shorr
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Photo: Courtesy of Kathy Shorr/SHOT.
Shot by her ex-husband in a nursery school parking lot while picking up her children. He had two guns, and she was hit by 14 bullets. Indianapolis, 2014

"Photographing women who were victims of domestic violence, [I] saw how intense of a subject that is, and how it is a subject that should be out there, and something that’s talked about more than it is... It spoke to me as something I wanted to make sure had a proper representation in the project." — Kathy Shorr

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Photo: Courtesy of Kathy Shorr/SHOT.
Shot point-blank through the forehead when she was 13 years old, by a man who stole her mom’s car while she sat in it waiting for her mom to come out of a convenience store. He drove her to a field and raped her, then attempted to execute her while she knelt before him, counting to 10. Kenner, LA, 1994

"I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of unstable people in this world, people...that do things to other people that are shocking.

"That somebody would think nothing of taking a gun out in a crowded place and just firing to hit somebody that they were angry at, without thinking about possibly hitting other people. Or, people that would want to kill the person that they love the most in the world…That is what’s chilling: the amount of violence and unspeakable behavior that some human beings are capable of."

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