A survivor of the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech explains her path to recovery.
Tom Kisken, firstname.lastname@example.org, 805-437-0255
Michael Morisette approached the Moorpark College stage.
His daughter, Kristina Morisette, a 20-year-old free spirit, was one of 12 victims killed at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks on Nov. 7. On Friday, the Simi Valley man listened as Lisa Hamp explained the fog, pain and loneliness that came after she survived a 2007 mass shooting on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia.
At the stage, Morisette told Hamp her words touched him.
“We’re experiencing that trauma here,” he said a moment later.
Hamp told her story at an annual suicide prevention conference. She explained how her life changed in the span of 11 minutes on April 16, 2007.
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She was 21, a junior sitting in a computer science class. The students heard a loud popping noise. It was gunfire. A male student who had opened fire earlier in a dormitory was shooting again.
Hamp’s classmates slammed the room’s door shut, then barricaded it. The gunman shot at the door and then tried to push it down. The students pushed back.
The gunman killed 32 people that day and wounded more than a dozen people. But Hamp and 10 others in Room 205 of Virginia Tech’s Norris Hall kept the shooter out. They survived.
Emotional trauma from the shooting emerged almost immediately, though Hamp hid much of it for eight years before seeking help.
Lisa Hamp explains how her life changed in the span of 11 minutes during the Virginia Tech mass shooting in 2017. Hamp spoke Friday at Moorpark College. (Photo: TOM KISKEN/THE STAR)
“I started having nightmares,” she said. “They always involved me hiding. And they always involved someone trying to hurt me.”
Fourth of July fireworks sound like gunfire, she learned. So do barbells dropped on the floor by student weightlifters.
She worried the shooting would happen again. She scouted out the rooms she entered, positioning herself in the areas she felt safest.
Hamp pursued two master’s degrees. She landed a job working at the Pentagon. She got married. She bought a house.
What she didn’t do is heal.
“After the shooting happened, it was like a fog came over me and I couldn’t see clearly,” Hamp said.
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She developed post-traumatic stress and an eating disorder. She told herself life would be better and happier if she were thinner.
At its worst, the pain seemed almost insurmountable. She wondered momentarily if maybe the solution was to no longer be a survivor.
“What if I wasn’t here?” she asked, noting the thought pushed her back into counseling and further toward recovery.
Her counselor told her to throw her weight scale away. Once an obsessive runner who used exercise to numb her feelings, she learned how to care for herself by writing in journals, talking to friends and listening to music.
Lisa Hamp, a survivor of the Virginia Tech mass shooting in 2007, explains her recovery from the trauma. (Photo: TOM KISKEN/THE STAR)
She decided to attend a survivors’ gathering for the 10-year anniversary of the shooting. She said she was told some events were open only to survivors who had been physically injured.
So she organized a separate gathering for the people in Room 205.
Now she’s an advocate who tells her story in hopes it helps others. She talked Friday about how the pain and stress in the days and weeks leading to anniversaries can be harder than the actual date.
Hamp emphasized the importance of finding people who will listen and don’t automatically offer advice.
“We want to be heard and we want to get things off our chest,” she said.
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Hamp spoke at a conference designed to empower people to take action to prevent suicide. It was put on by Ventura County Behavioral Health Department, the Ventura County Office of Education and Moorpark College.
Kiran Sahota, a county behavioral health manager and event co-chair, said organizers chose to make dealing with trauma a theme of the event partly because of the Borderline shooting. She cited the Woolsey and Thomas fires too.
“Trauma has really affected our community,” she said.
Morisette’s daughter worked as a cashier at the Borderline. She radiated energy and independence.
“I’m doing OK,” Morisette said Friday, noting 10 months have passed since the shooting.
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He has joined the Campaign to Change Direction, a drive aimed at changing the culture of mental health and making sure people receive the care and support they need. He reaches out to other people who lost loved ones at the Borderline and also to those who were at the bar that night and survived.
“We don’t want anyone to be lost in the shuffle,” he said.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, for both English and Spanish speakers, can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
Tom Kisken covers health care and other news for the Ventura County Star. Reach him at email@example.com or 805-437-0255.
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