When Chloe Quinn’s parents uprooted the family from the city of Salinas in Central California and moved to Roseburg—a traditional lumber town in southwestern Oregon—they were prioritizing safety.
It was 2001, and in Salinas, “gun violence and gang violence were escalating,” Quinn says. “My parents didn’t want me to grow up in an environment where that would be an issue.”
Thirteen years later, when fellow Roseburg resident Joshua Friedlein enrolled at Umpqua Community College (UCC), he was prioritizing safety, too. Homeschooled his entire life, Joshua felt that moving to dorm life in a distant city would be too big of a leap. Instead, he decided to attend the the two-year school located across the river while remaining in the comfort of his childhood home—the same town as Chloe.
There, on that small college campus, the two neighbors met, fell in love, and married.
And while neither regrets enrolling at UCC—having found one another—their collegiate experience was anything but safe. That’s because on the morning of October 1st, 2015—in their third semester—Umpqua was the site of one of the deadliest school shootings in American history, in which ten students (including the shooter) were shot dead.
Joshua was in a Health and Wellness class. The professor had scribbled some practice test questions on the board, and he was busy trying to copy down answers when he noticed the initial commotion.
“We heard noises outside in the courtyard,” he says. “I thought it was freshmen goofing off.”
Chloe Quinn (since changed to Chloe Friedlein), was in Biology 101.
“The class was loud, we were doing group projects,” she says. “I didn’t recognize any sounds as gunshots. I thought someone maybe dropped some pencils.”
But both classrooms were interrupted with the panicked news of a shooter in an adjacent building. Soon students were barricading windows and doors with tables and chairs. For three hours, students huddled—sobbing, texting, praying. Finally, after several hours, SWAT teams breached the classrooms, assault rifles raised, and ushered the students to safety.
“I just remember static,” says Chloe, who crammed with sixty classmates into a dark storage room amongst chemistry beakers and biology specimens. “Adrenaline kicked in. I don’t know if that dread kicked in until I realized what had happened. Until I realized there were people I knew who were now dead.”
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Chloe said she was shattered.
“I didn’t eat for two weeks. I could barely leave the house without sobbing.” Instead, she sequestered herself in her room, painting image after image of the trauma she’d just survived.
Joshua says that even today, nearly three years later, random events will trigger the trauma: a peer showing up late to class, a professor dimming lights for a powerpoint presentation, a fellow shopper with an open-carry firearm at Walmart.
“There are two radically different versions of myself,” says Joshua, 21 years old. “I look at myself before the event, and sometimes I don’t recognize myself because of how radically I’ve changed.”
An evangelical Christian who grew up in a conservative household, Joshua learned to handle a firearm at the age of eight, when his Grandpa Mike would take him down old logging roads around Roseburg, where they’d shoot soda cans with a .22 rifle.
Like Joshua, Chloe Friedlein grew up in a “red-blood conservative” household. She says she never gave guns much thought either way.
Both of their views on the topic have shifted dramatically. These days, the married pair are enrolled at Portland State University (PSU), where they’ve eschewed their political upbringings and become ardent gun control activists, helping organize the PSU chapter of the National School Walkout: a 17-minute demonstration being organized at schools across the country for 10:00 a.m. Wednesday, March 14th.
This is a testament to the intensity of America’s gun epidemic that the Friedleins story is so commonplace now as for there to be a nationwide community of mass shooting survivors—a community that is growing exponentially. Three of the five deadliest mass shootings in American history have occurred in the last twenty-one months. But now, it appears that their collective outrage is finally reaching a critical mass. A shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last month that left 17 dead brought gun control back into the national conversation, largely because young survivors explicitly called for gun control legislation in the immediate aftermath.
“I’m in awe of them,” says Joshua, speaking about the Parkland survivors.
So are a lot of America’s youth, says Julia Spoor, president of Students Demand Action, a national network of youth gun control activists that she says is over 10,000 members strong. Spoor is a 16-year-old sophomore at Jenkintown High School in suburban Philadelphia who has been taking part in anti-gun demonstrations for several years now. Until recently, Spoor says that getting fellow youth involved in activism has been slow-going.
“I have a lot of friends who agree with what I stand for but have never been interested in doing anything,” she says. “Most people are either too busy, or make up an excuse.”
Since the Parkland shooting, though, she detects a sea change.
“In the week following [the shooting] I had 5-6 people contacting me every day. I’ve been involved in this movement for a while now, and I’ve never seen anything so proactive and so empowering.”
Spoor’s interest in gun control activism was largely sparked by her own family history: days before her 8th birthday, her father died of a gunshot suicide that she believes might’ve been prevented had he not had ready access to a firearm. For years, she’s been an outspoken advocate for better gun safety… but until recently, she’s had limited success in getting her peers involved with the advocacy work she does.
Spoor is convinced that the National School Walkout will be a huge success.
“My homeroom teacher asked who would be participating. Everyone in homeroom said they would,” says Spoor.
But the National School Walkout is only one of several actions, Spoor says. She’ll also be attending the March for Our Lives, a demonstration planned for Washington, D.C. on March 24th.
The Friedleins are flying out, and expect to see her there.
“I’m going to carry October 1st and the nine beautiful souls that we lost on that day in my heart until the day I stop breathing,” says Joshua. “I survived, and they didn’t. And I don’t know why that is, but I have a responsibility to make the most of my life, and to try to honor them in a way that is meaningful.”
Adam Janos's work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Narratively, Tablet, and A&E's "Real Crime" blog, amongst others. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers—Camden and currently lives in Brooklyn with a cat named Frida. Follow him on Twitter.