‘I lost a part of myself that day that I’ll never get back’: How I survived a school shooting
‘It has forever traumatized me’
A survivor of a school shooting has spoken out to describe her experiences in a haunting new account.
Meagan Epstein, who attended the Marysville Pilchuck High School when it was attacked by a shooter in 2014, posted a powerful report of that day on Reddit’s r/AMA. It describes in detail how an ordinary school morning descended into horror, ending in the loss a childhood friend. Even now, Meagan writes, she is reeling from the emotional aftershocks of that day.
Speaking to The Tab, Meagan – who since moved to South Carolina – said: “I’ve never really shared my experience with anybody. I’ve just brushed it off and not really talked about it. After all these years I thought it would help to get the story out there. I’m sure there’s thousands of other people who have experienced something similar and can relate to this.”
She told us: “It affects my life daily. I don’t think about the whole experience daily, but I do realize that what has happened has definitely had an impact on my life.”
Read her account in full below
I am a survivor of a school shooting.
My name is Meaghan. I attended Marysville Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington from 2013-2015. I was born and raised in Washington state, before eventually moving to Charleston, South Carolina at the end of my sophomore year.
The shooting happened during my sophomore year. School was somewhat enjoyable at best for me, I never really liked it or even the social aspect of it. I constantly begged my parents to let me do online school, more so after the shooting though.
Despite all that, the kids I went to school with were people I grew up with, people that I had once made a connection with in the past. We were a pretty small community. I also had a solid group of friends at the time that I still talk to today. My classes weren’t bad either, although geometry was a huge struggle. I liked my teachers, we were all pretty close. My school was laid back, not too tight on the rules and everyone generally got along pretty well.
The morning of the shooting was like any other. Wake up 10 minutes before school, my brother yelling up the stairwell telling me to get my ass in the car or he’d leave me. We lived about a mile from the school, so the ride was fairly short. We were probably listening to some shitty rap song as we zig-zagged across speed bumps and screeched into the parking lot a couple of minutes before class. I rushed to first period, English 2 Honors, and plopped down in my seat, late as always.
Our classes were shortened, since it was a half day. Our school had half days every Friday due to budget cuts. We weren’t exactly the wealthiest community. After third period I had first lunch, I walked into the “small” lunchroom around 10:00 A.M and sat down, talking to my boyfriend at the time on the phone. My friends didn’t have first lunch that day, so I sat alone, blabbering on the phone.
If I remember correctly, around 10:20 A.M, the fire alarm went off. Everyone evacuated the building as expected. I remember laughing with one of my brother’s friends, joking about how it was probably one of the seniors pulling a prank. Then I heard a bang. It sounded pretty far off, so I didn’t think about it. Then I heard more… that was when the fear finally settled in.
It all happened within a matter of minutes. At 10:24 A.M the first shot happened. I remember running like my life depended on it. I was aiming for the parking lot. A lot of my brother’s friends were heading to their cars to leave, I so badly wanted to go with them. I wanted to go to safety. I wanted to go home.
I never made it to the parking lot. My limbs were heavy with the thought that someone I know might be dead. My heart hurt from beating so hard. I think I cried. I don’t know. I just know that I was afraid. I still feel that fear today.
One of the Spanish teachers who shared a room with my first period teacher grabbed me so hard it knocked the wind out of me. I remember begging him to let me go, to let me go to my brother’s friends. I had known them my whole life practically, they were my brothers too. I wanted my brothers to take me away from the horrific tragedy that had just occurred seconds ago.
He refused, and shoved me into the room and locked the door behind us. Standing there, in that room, the stench of fear was so strong I still smell it every fucking day. It was like my life was in slow motion. I scanned the room, kids were huddled in corners, shoved under desks. The air was so thick I thought I was choking. It felt like that room was 100 degrees. There was probably 50 or so students in a room meant for 25.
I found a spot under a large table right underneath the only window in that room. I looked to my left and there was a group of freshman girls huddled by the teacher’s desk. I remember one girl hysterically crying, swearing up and down that her best friend was dead. I think that’s when it finally sunk in.
I smushed myself under that table between two guys I didn’t know. I was still on my phone with my at-the-time boyfriend, and he swore that he wouldn’t hang up, that he would sit through this with me. Despite the disaster that relationship was, I will always remember him talking me through that entire experience and keeping me somewhat sane for the time being. I will forever appreciate that.
The texts finally started coming in from all of my family members. “Are you OK?” “Are you hurt?” I didn’t really know how to respond, but I did. I was huddled under that desk for over two hours, watching the newscasts quietly with hushed voices thick with tears. The anxiety, the fear, that’s all I could feel.
Finally, the police knocked on the door and demanded that we open up. They came in, guns raised and flipped on the lights. I remember standing up and covering my eyes only to be told to hold my hands high in the air. I trembled as a police man pointed his gun near me, my heart couldn’t beat any faster in that moment. We were told to grab our cell phones only and to exit the room in a orderly, single file line. We ran out of the room, flanked by policemen.
That first breath of fresh air wasn’t refreshing. It was heavy, filled with sorrow and agony. We ran, and ran until we were escorted on a school bus and sent off to a church not far from the school. The ride there was a blur, and being there was one too. We had to sign our name in check in, and go out front to wait for our parents.
I’m not religious, but I do remember walking through that church and just hoping that someone would rid my body of the crippling anxiety I felt. It’s still there, it never went away.
I hugged some of my teachers and cried with them, holding hands with people I hadn’t spoken to in years and telling them that it’ll all be OK. Eventually I was outside waiting for my mom behind a line of police tape. I saw her and she pulled me through the tape and hugged me so hard. I heard her sobs in my ear as she shook and petted my head. Her heart was absolutely broken, mine was too. I didn’t know how to feel, I didn’t cry with her, I wanted to. I just couldn’t feel anymore. I lost a part of myself that day that I’ll never get back.
We then retrieved my brother and my dad came to pick us all up, and we went home. At home I sat on the couch and watched the on-going news reports with my family. Nobody said a word. Later on that night I found out one of my childhood friends, Zoe, had died in the shooting. I didn’t cry then either. I went up to my room and didn’t come back out the rest of the night.
We had the next week off of school after the shooting. Our community really came together after everything. Nothing really helped my healing process though, it’s still an on-going thing.
I now suffer from PTSD (diagnosed by a psycho-therapist). This shooting has affected my life in so many ways. Any loud noise sends my pulse skyrocketing. A book slamming on a desk, loud beeping sounds, alarms, fire trucks, police sirens, banging noises, all of this immediately sends me back to that initial moment when the fear struck me. I can’t trust people.
The unpredictability of that day has forever traumatized me. I so badly want people in my life to understand that it’s not their fault that I have an extremely hard time trusting. It’s not my fault. I am constantly hyper aware of my surroundings, I notice every little detail. My body is always tense, I don’t know if I’ll ever truly relax again. Anxiety is a daily thing, I’m not sure if it’ll go away anytime soon.
I lost some of myself that day, and it was replaced with fear and anxiety and intense trust issues. As unfortunate as that is, it’s who I am. I cannot tell you how many nights I have spent on the bathroom floor, crying, wheezing, hurting and just wishing that things were different. But they aren’t, they never will be. The only thing I can do now is move forward.
I am a survivor of a school shooting.
I will always be afraid.
Cover photo credit: David Ryder/Getty Images