‘You Never Expect It To Happen to You’: How Dayton Teens Are Coping
The country turned its attention to Dayton, Ohio, when a gunman killed nine people at a bar in the city’s Oregon district. But for the residents of the city, this summer has felt like a never-ending onslaught. In recent months, the city has been hit with a tornado, a Ku Klux Klan rally, and now a mass shooting.
How are young people in Dayton coping with a shooting in their own hometown? Dayton Youth Radio’s Jack Long, a YR Media contributor, sat down with two teens who go to school and live near the Oregon district, Eleanor Dakota, 16, and Malcolm Blunt, 14.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Initial reactions to the shooting
Eleanor Dakota: I immediately looked up all the people that were hurt and made sure I didn’t know anyone. And after that, I felt a sense of relief — like everything’s going to be OK — but those [killed] are still people. And it feels a little inhuman that I would think that way. I feel guilty about not feeling as bad as some people feel right now.
Malcolm Blunt: I was at camp when I heard. My mother told me about how my cousin was there. He didn’t get hurt, but the person right next to him had gotten shot. And he had to help a girl who was next to him. [He] pulled a dead body off of her. My sister was on her way [to the bar] when it happened. And I’m kind of glad she ended up being late because there was a chance that she could’ve gotten hurt too.
ED: I was at a motel [when I heard about it]. Where it happened was within earshot of my home, so I’m glad I wasn’t home for that. I didn’t really believe it at first, but I walked downtown the day after it happened. I didn’t want to go like in front of the bar, because there were bullet holes in the glass, and that made me really upset.
Daily life in the Oregon district
ED: It’s like a historic place. There’s a lot of funky shops — like a really weird thrift store and a hat shop. There’s no big buildings. They’re all old buildings with cool architecture. Everyone kind of knows everyone, not like by name. You’d kind of see the same faces and you smile.
Jack Long: How does it change from night to day?
ED: In the daytime all the shops are open, but during the night, all the people are [at] bars. You just have to be careful about who you talk to.
JL: Did you ever think that you would be texting [your friends in Dayton], “How are you doing? Are you safe?”
MB: [No.] Because before really this year, [Dayton] seemed like a nice place where nothing really happened.
ED: Like you never expect it to happen to you in real life. You see it on the news and stuff. But it really does.
Conversations with parents
JL: Have you ever talked to your parents about shootings or mass violence?
ED: Definitely after the shooting, my mom has been a little more cautious about having me go out and stuff.
MB: I feel like I’ve been talked at by my parents a little bit more recently, because they’re worried and trying to make sure what happened to my cousin doesn’t happen to me.
JL: So when [you] say they’re “talking at you,” what do you mean by that?
MB: Since it’s so new and so fresh, they’re so worried about something happening to me that they just kind of forget that I have a social life outside of them.
JL: Do you feel like you’re, like 10 again, being told where to go?
ED and ML: Yeah.
Encounters with guns on social media and in real life
ED: On Instagram, people [are] like, “Yay, I have a gun! I’m going to point it at the camera and take a picture. That’s very funny, very cool.” [And I’m] like, “Ok, where’d you get that? Your parents? Where do they put it?”
JL: Have either of you shot a gun before?
ED: I have. I went once with my friend’s parents.
JL: How did that make you feel?
ED: I mean, I was good at it, but I don’t know. It’s silly to me why her dad would even need a gun. Like it’s nice to have, but it’s such a dangerous thing. My cousin got a gun when he was eight — it was like a BB gun. Things like that normalize the idea of owning a gun and needing to use that gun.
Feeling desensitized to gun violence
JL: Do you know anyone personally who has had experience with gun violence before this?
ED: I think someone once brought a gun into our school.
MB: Growing up in Dayton, it’s kind of out there that gun violence happens a lot. And so I have become desensitized to hearing, “Oh, this person got shot.”
ED: It just doesn’t feel like [gun violence] should be a thing [that] people even have to deal with — the feeling of “Oh, it’s happening again.” It’s happened so much. And it’s just here [in America]. It’s really stupid.
JL: When people say that they’ve become desensitized to shootings, what are your feelings towards them? It sounds like you would count yourself as one of them.
ED: I’ve never been a fan of guns, but seeing it happen to your own people really shakes you.