Las Vegas shooting survivor, a woman learning to live with fear

In this photo taken Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, Las Vegas shooting survivor Chris Gilman, right, puts her arm about her, as a woman, tears in both she Correa’s eyes when they talk about the record of a year earlier at their home in Bonney Lake, Wash. Gilman, with her wife at her side, was a shot at the Route 91 country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip Oct. 1, 2017. Today, Gilman and Correa making a conscious effort to keep away what they experience and witness of the spoil of their everyday moments at home, an hour southeast of Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

BONNEY LAKE, Wash. – Every time Chris Gilman leaves her house at the foot of Washington’s Mount Rainier, they fight the gnawing urge to run and to check that someone doesn’t shoot her.

Sometimes she wins the battle. Sometimes she loses.

In the years since the 48-year-old was almost killed in the worst mass shooting in modern AMERICAN history, Gilman has had to get used to living with fear: She has nightmares about family members getting shot, but she’s in the spots in restaurants where they can see the exits, and she has to mentally prepare himself for films which can consist of rapid gunfire.

And then there are the crowds, the most serious new obstacle Gilman have to be brave because the survival of the Oct. 1, 2017, massacre in Las Vegas, where 58 people have been killed and injured hundreds of others. Gilman was shot in the back; the bullet punctured a lung, lacerated her spleen and a kidney, broke two ribs and lodged 2 millimeters of her spinal cord.

“There are times that I’m in the supermarket and I have a feeling that the desire to turn and look and see who is behind me,” Gilman said. “I try to fight it, to just keep walking, and I think, ‘You’re at the supermarket. There is nobody behind you with a gun.’ But I always have the feeling that I’m looking behind me.”

That feeling turned into panic at one of Gilman ‘ s first concert since the shooting.

Gilman and her wife of 18 years, she has also Correa, were with friends in Seattle’s KeyArena after an Aug. 11 concert at the surge of the people around them was overwhelming.

“All of a sudden, I felt like the Tasmanian devil, where I was spinning in circles, in an attempt not to everyone behind me,” Gilman said. “I tense up and thought:” Here it comes, here it comes, I know that I’m going to get shot. Who’s behind me, behind me?’ In the back of your mind you know that it is crazy to think that way, but if the visions come, it is difficult to control.”

Gilman woman grabbed her hand and told her that she was freaking out, “but it was too late.”

“I was hyperventilating, and I ended up lying on the ground,” said Gilman.

Correa is struggling with her own trauma. She was at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in las Vegas with Gilman as a lone gunman busted out the window of his 32nd floor of the hotel room and launched on 11 minutes, bombarded by gunfire on the crowd below.

The women were helping a wounded friend, as the bullet tore through Gilman.

Gilman laid down and said Correa to save herself. Correa refused to leave her side.

“I said, ‘If you die, I die, so if you don’t want me to die, you have to get up,” Correa said, who tells how she rolled Gilman, so that her injured woman was able to Army-crawl for cover under some bleachers.

From there, Gilman said that she knew that she could not do anymore. That is when the two get married off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, Alex and Wanda Valiente, came to the couple.

“My wife and I are going to get you out,” Alex Valiente said Gilman. “I need you to help us. I need only to stand.”

Overcome by fatigue and pain, Gilman told everyone: “Just leave me.”

The Valientes and Correa wouldn’t budge.

“Get up,” Alex Valiente said Gilman. “You’re not going to die. You’re going to get.”

Gilman did exactly that, and the Valientes helped carry her to a car as bullets continued to fly around them. Correa tried to clear a path for them in the middle of a sea of wounded people, bodies and chaos.

They made. Out of the chaos, to the hospital and eventually back home to the idyllic community of Bonney Lake, an hour southeast of Seattle. Gilman and Correa living in a recently developed, well-maintained and close-knit community that the boundaries between the suburbs and the countryside, offering fresh mountain air and plenty of grassy open spaces.

But coming home was just the beginning.

Correa, an ultrasound technologist, recently it stopped working with patients needing scans, often used for finding the causes of a disease. Watching someone silently crying as their mind races through the possibility of a life-threatening condition became unbearable.

Gilman is often on high alert, even on her front porch. In an informal conversation, her hazel eyes dart between the person she is talking to you and her environment — from neighbors to let their dogs and children play in the street for the garbage truck along.

There are a lot of dark moments that remind them of things they can’t forget. The physical nerve pain Gilman feels like Correa lovingly put her arm on Gilman’s hip out of habit. And although they have largely recovered and even had the bullet removed from her body in a subsequent operation, it will be very careful when they bend, and is frustrated that she struggles to work out if they are in the gym.

There are waves of depression, the loss of freedom from fear, but also overwhelming gratitude for small things, such as when Gilman received a card from an 8-year-old she never met, who wrote: “I wish this never happened.”

In the middle of the fight, the couple strives for normalcy, for the experiences that people can enjoy without a second thought.

Although they are not regular concert goers before the shooting, Gilman and Correa forcing themselves to come out in the large, crowded gatherings faced with their fears. Also they made themselves back to Vegas last month for a previously scheduled trip for Correa’s mother’s 70th birthday, a trip that caused a panic at Gilman, but it was therapeutic by the end of the weekend.

Gilman and Correa try to focus on what they are thankful for: each other, their friends and family, and the new relationships that they have developed as a result of the shooting.

The Valientes, the off-duty police officers who helped save Gilman’s life, as a family. The group was separated from the night of the shooting and it took Gilman about a month to find them. She tracked them down on a Facebook page created to help the survivors of the people who helped them, and vice versa.

The two couples got together during the Christmas and plan to see each other again in October.

For now, Gilman and Correa will continue to try, continue to put themselves in uncomfortable situations, and eventually, they hope, to live with a little less fear.

“There is something bad happened in our lives. It completely changed, and we’re finding a new normal” Gilman said. “We can’t ever go back to the way we were before.”


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