On February 20th, 2016, Jason Dalton, a local uber driver, went on a shooting rampage that rocked my home of Kalamazoo. During this tragic event, six beautiful lives were lost and two others were severely injured. At this time, it seemed that all hope was lost and our sense of safety was gone.
On this day, I happened to be competing in Italy with my college synchronized skating team, but my family and friends were at home. I originally discovered what had happened while on Twitter. I sat their shocked, confused, and helpless as post after post asking for prayers filled my timeline. I panicked for the safety of my loved ones wishing I could help them. I remember when the first official details were released, and I was in complete disbelief. Thoughts were flying through my head. "How could this happen in my home?" When something like this happens, it never seems real until it happens to you.
In light of this tragedy, our community came together, offering each other support. A candlelight vigil was hosted downtown in Bronson Park two days after the initial incident. Hundreds of people in the community came together to honor those who were lost in the shooting. The members of our tight knit community refused to back down; we knew we had to unite, to lift one another up during a tough time. Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell was in attendance. He said, “tonight is a demonstration that he can’t do that, that we can feel the pain but can move beyond the pain.” He was exactly right. We could not let this man keep us from feeling safe in our home.
Throughout the year other events we hosted to honor the victims of the Feb. 20th shooting. Organizations like the Kalamazoo Wings Hockey team had a tribute game. The Kalamazoo FC soccer team, who pride themselves deeply on community connection, dedicated their final game of the season to honor those we lost. They were able to raise thousands of dollars to contribute to the Kalamazoo Strong Organization. This game was extremely personal for one of the Kalamazoo FC members, as Tyler Smith, the teen who was killed in the tragedy, was his classmate.
On February 20th, 2017, the one year anniversary, there will be a candle light vigil at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo, starting at 6:30 p.m. All of the victims and survivors will be remembered by members of the community. All are welcome to come out and support the event.
Kalamazoo has been my home my entire life, and it will forever be my home. Together we can and will always be Kalamazoo Strong.
My thoughts and condolences go out to the Kalamazoo shooting victims families, friends and loved ones. Anyone interested in making a donation, or for more information on the Kalamazoo Strong Organization click here.