Portland, Oregon native Jenna Yuille was sitting at her desk last Thursday morning when a text message popped up on her phone. It was from her friend Danielle, asking if she’d seen the news. Yuille replied, “No… what happened?” Danielle texted back that there’d been a shooting at a college a few hours away in Roseburg, a small town south of Portland.
Yuille didn’t have any friends or family in Roseburg. But the news made her feel sick. “I know exactly what it’s like,” she says, “for those families who are waiting to hear from their person, and aren’t going to.”
She knows because nearly three years ago, she was one of the ones waiting. It was December 11, 2012. That day Yuille, then 23 years old, was at work in Portland, assembling social media calendars on Twitter. Suddenly, her feed began to brim with news of a shooting at Clackamas Town Center mall in a southeast suburb of the city, not far from where Yuille grew up. She called her mother, Cindy, just to check in. She didn’t answer. Then she called Cindy’s husband, Robert, who said she’d gone out shopping earlier that day. Yuille knew she had to be at the Clackamas mall.
Cindy still wasn’t answering her phone, but she had a habit of leaving it at home. Yuille wasn’t alarmed. “What are the chances?” she recalls thinking. “I’m just not the type of person to jump to conclusions.” Two people had been killed, but the mall was packed with Christmas shoppers. The odds that Cindy was hurt seemed infinitesimally low. Later, “she’ll come home and she’ll have a great story about how she was helping someone,” Yuille thought.
The hours ticked by, and still no word from Cindy. Around 8:30 p.m., Yuille called her mom’s house. Robert picked up.
“He’s just very upset, very distressed. And he said, ‘Your mom’s been shot.’ And I just… I don’t know. I just couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘Is she ok?’ He said, ‘No, she’s hurt really bad.’ But he wouldn’t tell me what had actually happened. I said, ‘Where is she?’ and he didn’t answer. I couldn’t even bring myself to say the words, ‘Is she dead?’ so I said, ‘Is she alive?’ And he said, ‘No, she’s been shot.’”
Cindy — sweet and adventurous, funny and tough. Cindy, a hospice nurse, who took care of people as they were dying. Who had a “million” friends. Who loved traveling abroad, camping, hiking, going to yoga class with her daughter. Who had advice about everything. Yuille was in disbelief.
“She was shot in the back and the bullet pierced her lung and went right into her heart,” she says. “She died almost immediately.”
Almost three years have passed since Yuille’s mother was killed. She’s thrown herself into activism, co-founding a responsible gun ownership group. Still, Yuille says “it doesn’t get better, it’s not any easier. It feels like it could’ve been yesterday.” The worst times, the one she hasn’t found the antidote for, are those when news breaks of another shooting, and it snaps Yuille right back to the night she made that call.
After getting that text about the Roseburg shooting, Yuille immediately looked up the news online. Despite the wave of nausea and the impulse to cry, she was also consumed by an intense curiosity, a need to know the details, to find out how many people have died, where the shooter got the gun.
“I’m literally watching it happen all over again,” she says. “There’s a lot of, almost PTSD that comes up whenever these other shootings happen.
“I have this weird kind of paranoia now, like if I call someone now and I don’t hear from them for a little bit, I immediately think, ‘Gee, they could be dead.’”
Disclosure: Jenna Yuille volunteers with Everytown For Gun Safety, a seed donor to The Trace.
[Photo: AP Photo/The Oregonian, Thomas Boyd]