ABANDONED: Stories from Survivors of Gun Violence

Holly Werner-Thomas

The stories of survivors of gun violence are not easy to listen to, but they’re important to hear.


This installation was a part of HEAR & NOW: An Interactive Oral History Exhibitshowcasing multimedia projects and stories recorded by the 2017 cohort of Columbia University’s Oral History MA program. 


110,000 Americans are shot on average every year. Between 30,000 and 40,000 die. Another 80,000 live. Yet we don’t often hear about the lived realities of gunshot victims who survive or the people left behind when gunshot victims don't survive, from the drawn-out legal battles they endure, to their lifelong medical and psychological complications, including disabilities that include the inability to work, and a lifetime of lost earnings. There are also emergency hospital and ongoing healthcare bills to be paid. And there is the feeling of being left behind in a culture that simply moves on. This is true even after a mass killing when the media swoops in, only to leave again soon thereafter, but it is always true for private gun violence (domestic violence, crime, accidental shooting, or suicide) which accounts for 95 percent of all shootings across America.

In my exhibit, I wanted to show both the damage gun violence is doing (the original trauma of being shot or losing someone to gun violence), and how survivors feel abandoned in the wake of that gun violence, what human rights activist Jill Stauffer calls, “ethical loneliness.”

Here are three very different stories from three survivors whose only connection is the easy access to guns that shattered all of their lives.


Holly Werner-Thomas comes to OHMA with a Master of Arts in American history from American University in Washington, D.C. A writer and former journalist, Holly is from Portland, Oregon, but has lived in New York and Washington, D.C. for several years, as well as in Turkey, Brazil, and France. As an oral historian, she has conducted a wide range of interviews on several subjects—from family history to historic preservation. She has been working on gun violence prevention for five years.