CINCINNATI – Whitney Austin knew what a flurry of text messages asking how she was doing meant. A mass shooting.
Nearly one year ago, Austin, 38, survived 12 close-range gunshots in an attack in Cincinnati that left three people dead. Now, each time a similar attack takes place, the messages roll in. And as they arrive, she is forced to relive that day and all the fear that came with it.
When she saw messages about 10 days ago while vacationing with her family in Florida, she quickly learned the basic details of a shooting in El Paso, Texas. Then, she tried to go back to her vacation.
“It is so frustrating that that is what we have to do today. You have to call and check in to make sure that your loved ones have not been impacted by a mass shooting,” she said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
The next morning, she awoke to a fresh text onslaught. At first, she thought they still referred to El Paso, where 22 people died. But this time the messages were about Dayton, a city about 60 miles from the Cincinnati office building where a gunman opened fire in September 2018 and where Austin begged a police officer to save her life.
“I know the city, and that makes it so much more real, combined with the fact that it was right on the heels of the one in El Paso,” Austin recounted, explaining she has friends who went to college in Dayton and friends who live there. “I just felt defeated. I started crying in bed.”
The Dayton gunman killed nine people Aug. 4, including his sister, before police killed him. It all happened within 13 hours of the Texas shooting.
It's not the first time that news of a shooting has put her in “a dark spot” as she continues to physically recover from the wounds that have required three surgeries and countless hours of therapy, physical and psychological.
It's common for survivors of trauma to re-experience them when similar events occur, said Kate Chard, a professor of clinical psychiatry who heads the UC Health Stress Center in Cincinnati.
“It can be very hard to move forward,” Chard said. She said it's important to “normalize that it's natural to have these emotions.”
Austin represents the wider damage gun violence leaves behind – the victims who survive but need months or years to heal. For example, Austin was one of two people wounded in the Cincinnati shooting and in recent mass shootings, dozens were wounded in the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49, while hundreds were wounded in the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58.
In the wake of the Dayton shooting, Austin called and texted friends in the area to make sure they and their loved ones were OK.
“So a really hard day and it's even more hard for all those that have been impacted,” Austin said in a video she made afterward. “I know it makes you feel out of control. It makes me feel out of control.”
She posted the video to the Facebook page for Whitney/Strong, an organization she started last year to reduce gun violence.
Just days after the Dayton shooting, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, announced a package of gun control measures, including requiring background checks for nearly all gun sales in Ohio and allowing courts to restrict firearms access for people perceived as threats.
Austin, who has since left her bank job and lives in Louisville, Kentucky, met with DeWine in the past year. She hopes such responses will yield positive results.
“I realize that it is still an incremental process,” she said. “And I will take incremental process all day long over nothing.”