Photo courtesy of: Matt Stone/Louisville Courier Journal
This story discusses the loss of lives due to gun violence and contains stories that may be triggering for some readers. If you, or someone you know, are in crisis please contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 or calling the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990.
On the morning of April 10, a shooter opened fire on Old National Bank in downtown Louisville just before the bank opened for their working hours. According to reporting from The Courier Journal, law enforcement officers responded within minutes, and fatally shot the shooter. By this time, however, four employees of the bank had already been killed, with eight others hospitalized for severe injuries.
Over the past few years, Louisville residents have gotten used to seeing our city plastered on the news. From the murder of Breonna Taylor in 2020, to the attempted shooting of Mayor Greenberg just last year, Louisvillians have been first hand witnesses to how national plights including systemic racism and gun violence play out in our own backyards. But as high school students, our usual fears with guns surrounded that of the possibility of school shootings, which was still a pretty unlikely scenario. We never thought that these tragic events could directly haunt our day to day experiences–until the recent shooting did just that.
What happened that day
We are two Louisville high school juniors—Minhal Nazeer and Raima Dutt—and we hope that sharing and reflecting on our experience will provide insight to how events like the shooting at Old National Bank can and have affected the youth of today. We know young people, including Louisville youth, are directly and indirectly impacted by gun violence; more than 1,000 people 25 years old and under have been shot since the start of 2020. We also hope sharing our reflections can be part of stepping towards action and a broader plan for what must be done next.
About two weeks before the shooting occurred, we traveled to the Old National Bank as part of the Louisville Youth Philanthropy Council (LYPC)’s “Ask Presentation,” program, in which students ask local funders to invest in LYPC. The bank had partnered with us prior to our meeting, and we were hopeful to sustain a relationship for future investments. Candy Medina, LYPC’s board chair and curriculum coordinator, went with us as our adult advisor for the presentation. We met with four executives from the bank; one particular set of employees, a young man and an older woman, stood out as especially receptive to the work that we were doing. As teens who are not always respected or taken seriously by adults in the philanthropic field, we felt empowered by their enthusiasm and support. The young man interacted with us the most, asking direct follow-up questions and even commending us for our accomplishments at such young ages. After leaving the successful meeting, we went on to connect with him on LinkedIn. The two of us hung out afterwards at the Waterfront Park, talking about how validated we felt by the adults, and how well our one-day interaction with Old National Bank had gone.
But on April 10, the fond feelings associated with this memory underwent a complete shift.
It was 1PM. I was sitting in biology class, as my classmates were discussing their feelings of shock regarding the shootings at the bank and at Jefferson Community and Technical College that took place in our city on the same day. Although these massacres were just minutes away from my high school, I was still comforted by a safety net because it wouldn’t happen to me, right? My substitute teacher notified me that I had to go to the counselors' office. Weird, I thought. When I crossed paths with my counselor, she immediately told me she had to talk to me. Curiosity raced within me, as the spark of innocence in my eyes was not mirrored in hers. Confusion, anxiety, and fear rushed into my bloodstream; I knew something had happened.
In her office, she informed me that the executive director of LYPC had called her and mentioned my brief meeting at Old National Bank, specifically mentioning the young man I met. My foot began to shake– I had a random suspicion that he was a victim of the shooting. I didn’t want my dark thought to be proven correct–that a man I associated with sincerity and a deep fondness could be taken from this world.
What she said next, however, was a sentence I could never have fathomed. Though it hadn’t been reported in the media at the time, she revealed that the young man Minhal and I met with was currently the number one suspect as the perpetrator of the massacre. Suddenly, the only sound I could hear was my own heart pounding loudly in my ears.
Never in a million years could I have imagined that any one of the friendly executives I had met, let alone the man I connected with most, could be a mass murderer. My bubble of personal safety had suddenly popped, and in one moment, a piece of my innocence as a sixteen year-old girl was stripped. My memories felt like weapons. My biggest fears had become reality. It wasn’t long until I started bawling. I tried to compose myself, but tears flooded down my cheeks.
I vented to my counselors, explaining the irony that I had a presentation to the Kentucky Board of Education in Frankfort scheduled for the following day–I, along with other members of the Kentucky Department of Education’s Student Advisory Council, were to present a policy brief we created pertaining to gun control, mental health, and school safety. We started the project after the Uvalde shooting in hopes of pushing for change that would create safer school and community environments. I felt helpless, considering the type of tragedy I’d been working so hard to advocate to prevent had become jarringly real in an instant.
Soon, Minhal texted me. My whole body was shaking as I tried to calm down enough to read her text. “I hope the people we met are ok.” I chose not to respond because I knew her ignorance was truly bliss, and I knew it wasn’t going to last long. Two minutes later, she texted me an article. It had been confirmed by the media: The young man we met with was the shooter.
Right before the bell rang in my biology class, I opened the most recent notification on my Apple Watch: a text from my sister, who lives in DC, asking if I was okay. I assumed that she was referring to the shooting at Old National Bank, but was confused, since she knows I go to school relatively far from that location. Before I could check the messages that came through before the most recent text, the bell rang and I grabbed my backpack to go to my next class.
When I was finally able to read my notifications, I saw an email from the director of LYPC to my parents, stating that they had counseling support if I should need it. I thought this was kind but a little odd, seeing that I was merely in the same space two weeks prior; how could I have been that affected? Then, I saw that my sister sent me a screenshot of the LinkedIn profile for the man we had met at our presentation–my name was listed below the profile as a mutual connection. She asked how and why I knew him. I responded, though confused, as I was not sure how she found it. My darkest thoughts immediately led me to wonder if he was one of the four victims, but the names had not been released yet. As I waited for my sister to reply, I texted Raima, wondering if the people we had met were okay. Then, my sister replied with one of the most unsettling texts I have ever received: Minhal, he was the shooter.
A part of my brain immediately rejected this, and I continued to scour the internet to find proof of what she said. At that point, there was only speculation, and no official statement had been released with his name involved. She said that it was not confirmed but that his profile had been blasted on every news platform. My mind raced.When my classmate saw how distressed I was, she urged me to get out of class and find someone to talk to. I staggered out of the room, catching one of my teachers down the hall. I quickly tried to explain the situation to her and as I did, my confusion became tears. As we talked, I realized just how personal this entire situation had become. I had always cared about the issues of gun violence; the lives lost in the 2018 Parkland school shooting had seared their way into my brain as a permanent reminder of the damage that guns can do. They can do more than just kill–their effects ripple across communities and nations, and forever alter the lives of every survivor left behind. But now, the issue had made its way directly into my life. The more that was released about the story, the more surreal the situation felt. The name that would become a national headline for weeks was someone whom I had met, connected with, and had genuinely believed was a good person. He wasn’t just another face in the news. He had been a person, and had been one to me. I began to spiral as I realized just how badly I had misjudged what had seemed like a genuine connection. How was I supposed to take all of this in and walk to AP Spanish?
Over a month later, the memories continue to haunt us. As members of Gen Z, we have become used to the constant onslaught of trauma and injustice in the world and in the media–and under normal circumstances, news like this would likely have occupied merely minutes in our brain space. But our firsthand experience with a name that has been plastered over the news throughout the past month has made this a situation difficult to let go of. Later that same night, another employee of the bank, Deana Eckert, passed away from injuries in the hospital. Deana had been the woman in the meeting we had clicked with. Two out of the six people in our meeting that day were now dead.
Hearing other people brush over the shooting at Old National Bank, referring to it as just another headline, has become a surreal experience for both of us. We watch as something that has truly altered our lives bounces off others like nothing. Like most traumatic occurrences, the smallest things bring us back to that day. We remember the victims and our own experience every time a new story comes out about a shooting, near or far. Just five days after the bank shooting, a group of teenagers in Dadeville, Alabama were shot at during a sweet sixteen birthday party. Four were killed and thirty-two were injured.
This news led to a renewed grief for those kids, right around our age, and triggered our anguish all over again. Even now, we find ourselves wondering if new people we meet or memories we create might one day get painted over with more dark horrors; everything is uncertain. As teenagers, this has truly been our first time trying to balance these tumultuous emotions while trying to live our hectic lives as normal. Along with our sadness and anger, our trauma lingers, and we find many of our once-hopeful outlooks have been tainted by pessimism and fear.
More must be done
According to the Gun Violence Archive, Since January 2023, there have been over 200 mass shootings in the United States. As of early May, some reporting outlines that 2023 could set a record for the number of mass killings in the U.S.
As high school students still recovering from the aftermath of the tragedy at Old National Bank, we want to see change. Our prior desensitization to this issue has been catalyzed into a passion for speaking out against ineffective or nonexistent gun laws. We are writing this piece with the hopes that our story can be a part of the ongoing call for action against blatant injustices and deeper failures of democracy in our country.
Our experiences as students aren’t isolated in the state of Kentucky. On January 23, 2018, a 15-year-old student opened fire in Marshall County High School near Benton, Kentucky, murdering 2 students and wounding 14 others. Five years later, little to no progress has been made on gun reform in our state. Instead, Kentucky has politicized this issue. In fact, less than two weeks before the shooting at Old National Bank, Kentucky put the “Second Amendment Sanctuary” (House Bill 153) into law. This “Second Amendment Sanctuary,” prohibits state and local law enforcement from enforcing federal gun regulations or bans. House Bill 153 cleared both the Kentucky House and Senate, largely thanks to an overwhelming Republican majority. Since Governor Beshear neither signed nor vetoed this legislation, it became effective on March 28, 2023. A topic where the lives of innocent children and adults are at risk should not be considered a partisan issue.
April 10 could have been just the regular, tiring Monday that follows spring break, forgotten by Tuesday. No matter how many thoughts and prayers are sent to us and the Louisville community, nothing can change the fact that this tragedy was preventable. The shooter purchased the gun legally. He had been seeing a psychiatrist for mental health problems, meaning that there were records of his mental state at the time he purchased the gun. According to reporting by Spectrum News 1, the shooter’s parents said he should not have been able to purchase the gun due to his mental state. But in Kentucky, none of that matters. In a country like the United States, anyone having a bad day can purchase a lethal weapon and use it to harm others–no prerequisites necessary. This continues to happen, tenfold, every single year that gun legislation reform is not passed.
There can be no more excuses for parties continuing to debate this issue. People have died, are dying, and will continue to die if nothing is done to attack the matter at root: the lack of stricter gun laws. “Senseless” is a word thrown around frequently when talking about gun violence, but that is an accurate assessment of what is happening: senseless violence that can only be stopped with real, tangible change. As young people, we owe it to our future. As Louisville residents, we owe it to our community. As Americans, we owe it to every victim of gun violence in our nation.
Our position as non-eligible voters does not change any of these perspectives, but rather, amplifies them. We are the ones who will be living with these effects for the rest of our lives. There is a long list of names of people who should have survived with us–and it should not grow any longer. Students across the country have been expressing outrage and voicing their demands for change for years, but little has been done to recognize the very group of people who are among the most likely to die at the hands of a gun. Our experiences, perspectives, and futures must be taken into account and be used to guide policymakers’ decisions on gun reform. Of course, young people are active voices in the democratic process and are not merely at the mercy of adults. But this is a matter of life and death, and the only people who can decide that fate right now are the ones in power, who happen to be adults. In the meantime, we will continue to advocate and resist and pray that it will not take another body to finally enact change.