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Teen Gun Abuse Survivor Heals Through Activism

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

On November 14, 2019, minutes before she was hit by a ghost gun bullet, Mia was on the phone with her mom, Tiffany Shepis-Tretta. They were trying to come up with a day when Mia could skip school so she could pack food boxes without missing a test. She was walking to class after being dropped off by her grandmother on the Santa Clarita campus.

So carefree, Tiffany thinks now, remembering her daughter as a freshman. It’s so hard to imagine how minor the problems were.

Seconds after Mia hung up, a fellow student pulled out a .45 semi-automatic pistol made from a kit sold by a still-running online shop in Chula Vista and fired at the ATV.

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

Students walk to the reunion site after a gunman opened fire on their campus.

Students walk towards the reunion site after a gunman opened fire at Saugus High School in November 2019.

(Brian van der Brueg/Los Angeles Times)

Most of us barely remember the Saugus High shooting, the headlines, when it happened three years ago. Why should we? Since then, there have been many more school shootings and hundreds of gun violence in California and across the country this year alone. Gun violence archive puts number on over 600 so far in 2022 – including 21 people who have died in Uvalde, Texas, and 10 people who have been shot dead at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

Colorado Springs, Colorado is the new headline: five dead Saturday night at an LGBT club. Tuesday night brought another horror. Seven people died at a Walmart store in Virginia, including the shooter who shot himself with the final shot.

Can you at least name one of the others? Do you remember how in April an armed gunman wounded 10 people in a New York subway car? Or in 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 armed man killed five at the medical center and left more with “non-life-threatening injuries,” which is really just a cold and casual way of saying welcome to a trauma-filled life, as for the victims. so for others. those who love them.

“You can’t wait to worry until it happens to you,” Mia told me on Tuesday. And if telling her story, bringing it to the end, will attract the attention of even one person, it’s worth digging up the details like salt in the wound, she said.

“With the rate at which gun violence is happening now, everyone will recognize someone, everyone will be subjected to gun violence,” she said. “The whole world is suffering. All these gunfights happening over and over again are hard for me. But it’s also incredibly hard on our entire country.”

Governor Gavin Newsom during a news conference at Santa Monica College on July 22, 2022.

Gov. Gavin Newsom wipes away a tear as he thought of his daughter as gun violence survivor Mia Tretta (left) told her story before he signed Senate Bill 1327, a gun law modeled after Texas’ abortion ban, on July 22. which took effect at Santa Monica College. Tretta was injured and her best friend killed in the 2019 Saugus High School shooting.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

She is now a high school student, still a student at Saugus High School, but spends most of her time as a gunsense advocate for organizations including Students Demand Action. These past few weeks, with shootings in Colorado and Virginia, the pressure of a holiday to celebrate gratitude, and the three-year anniversary of the Saugus shooting, have been tough on Mia’s entire family.

“First of all, in the grand design of all this, we are lucky because she is here. She’s with us,” Tiffany said. “This is what you think about when the holidays come. I think about [Dominic’s] a family.”

Mia worries people don’t even remember him – a curly-haired 14-year-old who “wasn’t afraid of anything,” Tiffany said. He and Mia had an 8 minute secret handshake they had to do. each when they met, Mia said.

The man wears a shirt with the name of a boy killed in a shootout at Saugus High School.

People gather in Santa Clarita Central Park to pay tribute to those killed and injured in the Saugus High School shooting.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

He wore a SpongeBob T-shirt almost every day. The first time he met Tiffany in a department store, he “shaked my hand really hard and said, ‘I just want you to know that I’m Mia’s boyfriend,’ and then ran off laughing,” Tiffany said.

Mia loved him, and he was gone, killed while they were walking together, just another day before it happened.

But as much as we mourn the dead, the living matter too. Gun violence is a terrible, tragic moment for those who die. It’s a lifetime of pain for those who live.

Tiffany remembers the morning Mia got shot and wasn’t particularly worried even when she heard that something was going on in high school. Decided to go and check. On the way, she received a message from an unknown number.

“Hi Mom, I don’t know if you heard, but there was shooting. Tell Max to chew with his mouth closed,” it read. Max is Mia’s younger brother, a first grader when the shooting happened, and eats with his mouth open at the dinner table, much to his older sister’s dismay.

Tiffany realized that 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 that 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 Brueg/Los Angeles Times)

Mia was “as normal as can be,” Tiffany said. “Thank God for the shock and adrenaline. I feel like if she was screaming in pain, I would give up.”

Somehow, Tiffany called her husband, Sean, and they arrived at the school almost at the same time, while Mia was taken out on a gurney. There was a helicopter ride to the emergency room, and although the bullet missed a large artery by a few millimeters, “we knew pretty quickly that she was going to be all right,” she said.

“But when you have to tell a child that his best friend was killed, you immediately see how innocence follows from him,” she said.

Mia still has physical problems from her injury and 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. “Injury is a roller coaster. It doesn’t end and it’s not static.”

Tiffany was also shocked and still is.

“You’re trying to live a little harder, you’re trying to love more, you’re trying not to hold a grudge against what you’ve had in the past,” she said. “As parents, you must continue. You have to pick it up and keep it together. You will fall apart one day when they get married and have children of their own. It’s hard.”

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

A family gathers at the Gracie Ann Muhlberger and Dominic Blackwell memorial near Saugus High School in 2019.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

One of the hardest parts is what the political shootings have turned into. If your child has been in a car accident, Tiffany notes, the only response is empathy and kindness.

“You say that my child was shot during a school shooting, everyone has their own opinion on this,” Tiffany said. “It’s the only thing that’s polarized and it’s really unfair. You talk about children’s lives and their safety.”

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

But Mia also discovered something about her pain.

“I realized very early on that I was just as comfortable sitting in bed and crying as I was going outside and trying to make a difference,” she said.

Mia travels the country talking about gun rights. Not long ago she was in White House to an event with President Biden. And she voted for the first time a few weeks ago — all the candidates she trusts share her values. Recently, after the school shooting in Uvalde, she went on strike at Saugus High School. He was not well received in the conservative enclave of Santa Clarita.

“People were holding Trump flags and throwing things at us,” she said. “This is bleaching, a kind of attempt to pretend that this did not happen in the Amazing Town,” one local district dubbed itself.

Mia’s persistence gives me hope.

I am quite certain that the so-called adults will not solve the gun problem in America anytime soon. Even in California, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, we face a stone wall of those who sincerely believe they will someday need guns to overthrow our government, and any attempt to curb gun rights risks warping weapon concept. patriotism.

But the kids have a chance.

“Generation Z will get rid of them,” Tiffany said, speaking of politicians who think their self-serving worship of the Second Amendment is more important than our children.

“I don’t just see it with my daughter,” she said. “I see it when she goes and meets other groups of young people. [activists]. They are aware of the serious gun problem in our area. I have high hopes for them and unfortunately we had to burn it all down so they could rebuild everything.”

Miya does not want her whole life to be associated with weapons. She is 18 years old and is applying to college. She dreams of Stanford and they would be happy if they had her. Both she and her mom volunteered again for Thanksgiving, this year cooking for those who live in motels.

But Mia fights to win, as do many of her peers who are “oblivious,” as Tiffany puts it.

“They are changemakers,” Mia says of other young survivors she has dated.

“They are fighting for the same thing,” she said, whether they are focused on climate change, reproductive rights, or any other issue that seems so insurmountable, “to be safe, to be happy, to be loved, and don’t be scared.”

“Not much to ask for,” she said.

No, Mia, it’s not. I wish that we could win this battle for you, leave you a better world. Or at least one where overkill doesn’t come and go from our minds 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 haven’t abandoned us.

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