All week we’ve been hearing how people in our region relate to guns. We’ve heard from gun owners, law enforcement agents, gun retailers, and criminals who have used guns. We wrap up our series “Gun Stories,” with people whose views on guns have been shaped by violence.
Parts of this story may not be suitable for children.
Andrea Bannister lives in Vancouver, Washington. But in 1999 she was a junior at Columbine High School in Colorado. On the day that two fellow students entered the school armed with assault weapons, Bannister was in class.
She remembers hearing bombs and gunfire in the halls. Her teacher ordered her to flee through a back door and climb over a chain link fence.
“My best friend and my boyfriend were in the library at the time. And so as everyone was exiting the building I decided I was going to run back into the building. I remember seeing some people with blood on them. Again that same teacher grabbed me and pretty much threw me over the fence and basically said, ‘You need to run.’”
She fled to her house and hugged her mom. And then, Bannister waited, frantic to hear from her best friend and boyfriend.
“So as more time was passing by I knew something was wrong.”
Her boyfriend had been shot, but survived. Her best friend, whom she had known since elementary school, was killed.
Twelve years later, by most counts Bannister is a successful young woman. She has a job and lives in her own apartment.
But Bannister is a changed person. She used to be outgoing. Now she keeps loved ones at arm’s length. And every day she deals with the effects of post traumatic stress disorder.
“Crowds bother me because it’s not controlled. You know if there’s somebody in a crowd and their hand is in their pocket I immediately go to, ‘There’s probably a gun in there.’ I always have to know where my exits are in buildings. I always have to face the door in restaurants.”
But she still believes that people should be allowed to own guns, though she supports stronger background checks to filter for mental illness.
“My story is a little different. I am, you could say, a victim of a gun crime.”
Brandon Roses is twenty-seven now and lives in Corvallis. But on a June day in 1995 when he was nine, most of his family was headed to a dance festival. His parents left him alone with his two younger siblings.
“I’m sure my parents had some reserves about that but I was a fairly temperate boy. And I knew what my dad’s number was in case I needed to call him for anything.”
He made macaroni and cheese and he says the kids were playing army together. Roses searched for his father’s hunting rifle in the back of a closet.
“And so I found it, I knew where it was and so I went and I got it. But then in my older brother’s rooms, I found some ammunition for that gun that my dad didn’t know about. Because that would have definitely not been okay.”
The Roses family used guns, and Roses says he had fired a gun before. He loaded the bullets into the rifle. He remembers they continued to play. At some point, it was time for five-year-old Charolotte to take a nap.
“She was upset and throwing a fit and not really wanting to go to bed. And I was sitting on the couch and I had the gun. I was holding it and it was in my lap. And I still have no idea how, but the gun fired, the gun went off.”
The bullet struck Charolotte in the abdomen. Brandon Roses called 911. She died within hours.
Brandon Roses was charged with manslaughter in the second degree. He was put on probation. A judge later vacated the charge and ended his probation as he approached his 18th birthday. His parents showed him love and support.
“What usually gets me is when I look at somebody who is 5-years-old and I see how small they are and then I look at somebody who is 9 years-old and I see how young they are and I think that was me, and that was my younger sister.”
Roses is married and now has a two-year daughter. He’s about to graduate from Oregon State University and has plans to become a physician’s assistant. Life is almost normal. And for Roses, owning guns is part of that normalcy.
“The gun itself wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I was able to have access to it. So the day that I bought a gun I also bought a gun safe.”
Roses’ experience with gun violence is unusual. But for some communities in Oregon, gun violence is more frequent than it is in others.
Sharon Maxwell-Hendricks has lived in Portland for all of her 48 years. Until around 1990, she felt safe in Northeast neighborhoods. Then, gangs and violent crime took root.
“On a weekly basis, you know we’d hear about there was a drive-by-shooting or there was shooting somewhere or a fight broke out. I dream about it. I can hear shots going off in my head. You just pray that it’s not someone that you know close, that you’re not close to.”
In March of last year, she got the phone call that she’d always dreaded. Her brother Ramon had been killed by gunshot while sitting in his car.
“Someone was stalking him. And basically came up on his vehicle and started shooting.”
Two years ago, she says her seventeen-year-old son was involved in a shoot-out in downtown Portland.
“By the grace of God, no one was killed, hurt or injured.”
Her son had always been a good teenager. She says she had no idea he’d joined a gang. Now Maxwell-Hendricks visits him at a correctional facility every week.
She was disturbed by the Clackamas Town Center shootings. But some of the reactions she heard also bothered her.
“People making statements, ‘Oh I never thought it would happen in our neighborhood — why aren’t they more concerned more about the deaths and the killings and the shootings in this neighborhood to people just like themselves?”
She’s tired of the violence. She hates explaining to colleagues at work every time there’s a tragedy.
“Instead of me saying my family member is graduating from high school, or you know they just they just bought their first home, I’m always telling them about death, you know. About somebody dying. Somebody being hurt. About losing. You just feel like you’re always losing.”
Maxwell-Hendricks is now an advocate for stricter gun laws. She patrols the streets with volunteers every Saturday to help prevent gang violence. She wants to do what she can to make her neighborhood a more livable place.