Everyone deals with the aftermath of a traumatic event differently. Some people start appreciating the little things life has to offer while others engage in risky and self-destructive behavior, letting what happened to them define the rest of their lives. That, I find pointless because you’re still here. You’re alive and well, so take advantage. If the pain is too excruciating then put an end to it. I don’t understand why people choose to live miserably. It’s trivial, not to mention, constant torture.
Today was the day Matt and his defense attorney would make their first court appearance for the preliminary hearing. All the survivors were asked to come in and present their testimony. Ellen, Anders and I all agreed to go while Warren reluctantly struggled to go through with it. Ellen and Anders managed to convince him though, and we ended up all going. We arrived at the courthouse just in time and took our seats. Inside the room were twenty-one witnesses out of thirty-four; twelve had decided not to show up and one had committed suicide a couple of days earlier, due to his inability to psychologically cope with his wife’s death. The judge, prosecutor, medical examiners, attorney and of course, Matthew Eldon were all inside. Dejected, Warren frowned when he saw him being escorted into the room. A few moments later, the bailiff asked us to rise, announcing the commencement of the trial. When everyone sat down, and the judge started to speak, Warren reached out to me, and told me he couldn’t stay before getting up and leaving the room.
When the time came for us to get up to the platform and give our testimonies, I tried to gather up my thoughts so I could present an effective one, but my mind seemed to slowly empty itself, causing most of my memories to jumble around, and I could tell some of the details were going missing. Out of the three of us, Ellen was the first to go. Recalling the shooting, she said she jumped behind the bar and played dead — lying totally motionless on the ground, breathing occasionally if at all — but was doubtful she’d make it out alive because Matt did go behind the bar, shot the bartender more than five times, turning his body into a shapeless pile of bone and tissue, before pointing the gun at her and aiming for her head and firing at her. Luckily for her, the bullet grazed right past her forehead and hit the ground.
Anders hid underneath a dead body that kept on bleeding, its blood steadily creating a bigger pool around him, some of it soaking into his shirt. He couldn’t move because the area he was in was covered in glass, and Matt was still wheeling around and shooting at everyone. When he finally saw him enter the restroom area, he pushed the body away from him and crawled to the emergency exit door (that Matt had locked), all that while both of his forearms kept getting cut by broken glass.
As more people took the stand, I made the extra effort to listen to their experiences and heavily relied on their stories to fabricate mine, because by the time my turn came up, my mind had totally shut off. I had no specific account regarding my actions during the incident; only a few, disorganized instances my memory was able to permanently register. When I took the stand, I felt my vision vibrating, knowing all eyes would be on me. I imagined the room was empty, that Matt wasn’t there. Then I started sharing my own experience. What I easily recalled was the immediate aftermath of the shooting, when members of the SWAT team escorted me outside the building where police officers and paramedics swarmed the area, and a gruesomely shattering array of dead bodies was lined up on the sidewalk. As more members of the elite police vaulted inside the building, more people were rescued. I remember seeing them race outside and gravitating in one spot, the injured ones being loaded into ambulances. The triage area looked like a war zone with choppers circling around in the sky above, their lights brightening up the entire space.
By the end of the session, the prosecutor had filed formal charges against Matt that included in thirty-eight counts of first degree murder, thirty-four counts of attempted murder and inciting violence. The judge ruled him as guilty with a plea hearing scheduled sometime in the upcoming month. For Matt, the only way out of this situation is for his attorney to either manage to plead him not guilty by reason of insanity, or let him plead guilty so he could avoid the death penalty. Either way, Matt would be put away for good, and if the police manages to trace the bodies of the other victims he individually killed and I helped dispose of, as well as all the murders he’s committed over the years, then his actions would be seen as intentional and deliberate, and the judge will definitely have to rule out the plea of insanity defense.
After the preliminary hearing, we all went out and found Warren sitting down on the stairs by the entrance. Anders suggested we all go out to dinner to release the tension and lift up our moods. We went to an upscale sports bar in Old Town, and as we were having a good time, Ellen unintentionally brought up the shooting again which triggered Warren’s trauma and caused him to feel agitated. His face turned pale and sweaty as if a hot stream of air had congealed in front of him. As she animatedly recounted the chaotic event, his body started shaking to the memory, and his breathing started coming rapidly. It looked like he was having a nightmare with his eyes open. To the sight of that, Anders interrupted her and asked him to go out for fresh air. Ellen, Anders and I seem like we’ve moved on. We’re totally fine. Openly talking about the night of the shooting was kind of cathartic. But I understand why it’s not as beneficial to Warren as it is for us; he’s clearly the one who’s been severely affected, both physically and psychologically, and something tells me the shooting will hunt him as long as he lives. I can’t help but feel responsible, knowing that I was the reason behind all of it. I feel like a curse causing havoc wherever I go.
When Warren came back in, we suggested he seeks professional help, something he was seriously considering due to restless nights spent in bed. After his surgery, his progress seemed steady and promising, but looking closer, he was only getting better physically. The psychological part hasn’t improved. And I’ve noticed that every time he tried to brush off thoughts that reminded him of the shooting, more came at him with a vengeance, making him paralyzed and unable to dismiss the tragedy any further. No matter how hard he tried, he kept on falling short. What worries me is the fact that I’m gradually realizing that he’s finding comfort in giving up and dwelling on the pain. It’s like he doesn’t want to move on and is too afraid to admit it.