Those killed aren't the only victims of school shootings. Read this survivor's story.

I'm not sensationalizing when I say this mom's Facebook post is one of the most difficult things I've ever read.

I've written about the Syrian refugee crisis and cried my way through people's stories. I've written about the active shooter drill generation and felt the galling weight of America's gun violence problem.

But I'm struggling to write this story because I can barely digest what I've read.


On the morning of May 18, a gunman opened fire in a Santa Fe, Texas, high school art class, killing eight students and two adults. Deedra Van Ness's daughter Isabelle was one of the students in that class. She watched her classmates die in front of her. Their blood was on her clothes. And now she and her family are dealing with the traumatic aftermath of it all.

Photo by Daniel Kramer/AFP/Getty Images.

In a Facebook note, Van Ness shared the details of that day and the days that followed, with Isabelle's blessing. She's asked the media not to request interviews, but she and Isabelle want their story to be told. And we need to hear it.

Van Ness started with the phone call she got from Isabelle after dropping her off at school.

"I noticed her name on the screen and figured she forgot something," Van Ness wrote:

"As I answer the phone, she is whispering and I can barely understand her. Then I hear her whisper ... mom, they are shooting up the school, I'm hiding in a closet. I love you mom. In the background, I hear gunfire. I beg her to stay on the phone and she says other kids with her want to call their parents and don't have phones. I beg her not to hang up as the call drops. I was frozen, standing there with no idea what to do next."

I'm a mom myself, and what Van Ness experienced is my worst nightmare. The phone call. The sound of bullets. The dread after hanging up.

But that part, I had pictured — that part, I could kind of wrap my brain around. It's the details from her daughter's perspective that gutted me.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Van Ness's story puts a traumatized human face on all of the mass shooting statistics and gun control debates.

After sharing the story of that day from her own perspective, Van Ness then starts over from the beginning, through Isabelle's eyes.

In all of the school shooting coverage current and past, I have never read an account that gave such a clear picture of what a firsthand witness and survivor goes through.

Van Ness shared that as the shooter began his rampage, Isabelle ran into a supply closet with a handful of other students. "As they are moving heavy items in front of the door," Van Ness wrote, "the gunman screams ... Surprise M*****F****** and begins shooting into the closet. The gunman hits 3 of the 8 kids in the closet ... killing 2 of them instantly. He leaves to chase other kids who ran out of the room and they hear more gun shots."  

For 30 minutes, Isabelle lay on the floor of the closet next to her classmates' bodies, their blood seeping into her clothes. Then the police arrived.

And though that seems like it should be the end of the real trauma, it's far from it.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

The kids who are killed in these school shootings are not the only victims. The trauma of the survivors needs to be part of the conversation, too.

The aftermath of the shooting that Van Ness shares is another story in and of itself. Isabelle doesn't want to shower now because the sound of the water hitting the tile triggers memories of sounds she heard in the supply closet. She's been struggling to connect with her friends who didn't share her experience. "Other students are bullying her on social media," Van Ness wrote. "Blaming her for not trying to do more to save her classmates, calling her a liar about what happened, etc."

And that barely scratches the surface. Van Ness's post is hard to read because the details make it feel too close, because we know it could be any one of our children. But we need these kinds of stories to remind us that school shooting statistics aren't just numbers — they are the real lives of children and families, changed forever by senseless gun violence.

Her post is long, but it's worth your time. Read the whole thing here:

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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