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What ought to I do on the dying anniversary? Extra asking as US mass killings rise

By TRISHA AHMED (Related Press/Report for America)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — On a September day that he knew can be laborious, 51-year-old Damone Presley marked the event with barbecue and balloons.

He was commemorating the one-year anniversary of the day in 2021 that his daughter and her three associates had been fatally shot in Minnesota by a person who left their our bodies in an deserted SUV in a Wisconsin cornfield. Presley gathered 50 associates to have fun the lifetime of his daughter, Nitosha Flug-Presley, who was 30 when she died. He went huge on the anniversary as a result of he felt certain that’s what his daughter would have needed.

“She would at all times do stuff huge,” Presley instructed The Related Press.

There have been 553 mass killings in the USA since 2006, and not less than 2,880 individuals have died, in line with a database maintained by The Related Press and USA At the moment in partnership with Northeastern College. These embrace killings the place 4 or extra died, not together with the assailant, inside a 24-hour interval. To this point in 2023, the nation has witnessed the best quantity on report of mass killings and deaths up to now in a single 12 months.

Because the quantity of people that die in mass killings within the U.S. continues to rise, 1000’s extra are left to deal with the trauma of shedding somebody they like to a mindless act of violence. They battle with a particular sort of grief, haunted each by the loss and by the way it occurred.

One of many hardest days they confront annually is the anniversary of the killing.

This Wednesday, households in Uvalde, Texas, must face that one-year anniversary — transporting them again to the day when a gunman entered Robb Elementary College and fatally shot 19 kids and two lecturers as they gathered to have fun the tip of the varsity 12 months. And final week, households of 10 individuals in Buffalo, New York, crossed the one-year mark from the day a white supremacist shot and killed them in a grocery store.

Folks address these anniversaries in numerous methods. Some throw a celebration to get by way of the ache. Others choose to be fully alone. Many fall someplace within the center, adopting little rituals to assist get them by way of the day.

However all of them grapple with the identical query, typically after a few years have handed:

What do I do with myself on the date that modified all the pieces?


On the identical day Presley gathered with family and friends at his residence, Angela Sturm — whose kids, Jasmine Sturm and Matthew Pettus, had been killed in the identical assault — selected to spend the day alone.

“I flip down invitations to ‘have fun’ as a result of it’s not a celebration to me,” she stated.

As an alternative, she honors her kids privately by taking a look at their photographs and remembering how their life collectively was. She writes, cries and practices self-care by studying a superb ebook or taking a sizzling tub. She hopes individuals will perceive that she needs to be alone, and that they shouldn’t fear or be upset if she turns down invites or doesn’t reply to texts.

Everybody offers with grief otherwise, stated Jeffrey Shahidullah, a pediatric psychologist at UT-Austin Dell Kids’s Medical Middle.

Shahidullah was a part of a group that stayed in Uvalde for months after the capturing to function a disaster walk-in clinic for first responders, neighborhood members, household and associates of victims.

Within the quick and long run, mass shootings can traumatize complete communities, Shahidullah stated. That may lead individuals — even those that didn’t know the victims personally — to keep away from conditions that remind them of the occasion, really feel always unsafe and expertise intrusive flashbacks to once they first heard in regards to the killing.

“Loads of these signs could possibly be exacerbated or worsened across the time of those anniversaries,” Shahidullah stated. “Over time, these signs do are likely to subside. However everybody has their very own timeline.”


By merciless coincidence, the primary anniversary of the Buffalo grocery store capturing fell on Mom’s Day. That made issues particularly laborious for Wayne Jones, whose mom, Celestine Chaney, was among the many 10 individuals killed by a white supremacist that day.

Jones stated some associates came visiting on the anniversary, they usually talked about different issues.

“5/14 is on daily basis to me nonetheless,” he stated. “I watched my mom get killed on video.”

The video and a photograph of the shooter — standing with the gun he used, a vulgar racial slur scrawled on its barrel — are “ingrained in my mind,” he stated.

Tirzah Patterson and her 13-year-old son, Jaques “Jake” Patterson — who misplaced his father, church deacon Heyward Patterson, within the grocery store capturing — left city altogether for the anniversary. They haven’t set foot in Tops Pleasant Market because it reopened final summer season and didn’t attend the memorial occasions in Buffalo for her ex-husband and the others who had been killed.

“We don’t need to undergo that once more,” Tirzah Patterson stated earlier than the weekend. “We’re going to be gone.”

They spent Mom’s Day weekend in Detroit and attended a church service there.


Whereas some are simply crossing the one-year mark, others have been coping with these anniversaries for years.

Topaz Cooks marked the 10-year anniversary of her father’s dying final September. She was a month shy of her twenty first birthday in 2012 when her dad and a number of other others had been shot and killed at work by a person who was fired from the corporate in Minneapolis.

“I nonetheless can not imagine that occurred to my household,” she stated.

On the anniversaries, she likes to do issues her dad, Rami Cooks, loved. Final 12 months, she went on a hike and ate dessert — as a result of her dad cherished rugelach, birds and wind. She loves that her associates ship her photographs of their dessert that day annually with the caption: “In your dad!”

She additionally has a journal she writes in annually on that day, filling her dad in on the highlights, challenges and ideas from the 12 months that she needs she might share with him.

Seven years after the killing, Topaz Cooks stated she skilled PTSD whereas working as a theater stage supervisor. She was stunned as a result of she didn’t count on it to hit so late. The manufacturing’s plot might have triggered it — the play was a couple of girl avenging her father’s dying.

She stated she would get exhausted on the finish of rehearsals, lie down on the ground of her workplace and really feel like she couldn’t stand up. At occasions, she felt like her pores and skin was vibrating or that she was exterior of her personal physique. It took months of remedy to really feel like she was again in management.

Speaking in regards to the loss isn’t for everyone, however Cooks stated it’s vital to her.

“I want that folks talked about it extra and normalized it,” she stated. “Grief is simply so lonely.”


A touch of fall hung within the air on Sept. 12, the day Presley threw a celebration to mark the day his daughter and her three associates had been killed and left deserted. He stated he needed to consider who his daughter was relatively than how she died.

She cherished to throw thrilling and glamorous birthday events for her children, family and friends.

Presley positioned a life-size cardboard cut-out of his daughter smiling in a pink outfit by the door. Visitors wore T-shirts with photographs of her and phrases like “By no means Forgotten” and “Daddy’s #1 Angel.” At Presley’s request, visitors gave speeches in regards to the funniest issues they remembered his daughter doing.

Late within the afternoon, they gathered across the entrance steps of his residence, clutching purple, yellow, pink and white balloons, some embossed with phrases like “Perpetually in Our Hearts.”

Vast-eyed kids, following the lead of the adults round them, listened quietly as a lady sang the gospel track “Take Me to the King.” Presley recited a poem his father had written years earlier than, phrases Presley’s daughter had adored.

“I meet the dawn each day on the way in which to get mine,” he recited. “I don’t play myself ’trigger I don’t received time.”

When he completed the poem, Presley gave the sign to launch the balloons. They soared straight up, gently rising above the rooftops and disappearing into a transparent blue sky.


Aaron Morrison and Carolyn Thompson contributed from Buffalo, N.Y.

Trisha Ahmed is a corps member for the Related Press/Report for America Statehouse Information Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit nationwide service program that locations journalists in native newsrooms to report on under-covered points. Comply with Trisha Ahmed on Twitter: @TrishaAhmed15


Ahmed’s father, Avijit Roy, was killed on Feb. 26, 2015, by spiritual militants in Bangladesh. Annually on that date, she throws a celebration — as a result of he cherished celebrations — and surrounds herself with individuals she loves. This February, they performed video games and gave a toast in his honor.



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