Amy Gibson rushed to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center after learning her niece Gracie Jensen had been shot at Freeman High School, she wrote in a victim impact statement shared in court Thursday.
She arrived before the ambulances to see emergency room staff standing shoulder to shoulder lining the hospital hallway, expecting the worst, Gibson recalled.
“I felt helpless to help them,” she said recalling that September 2017 day. “It was almost unbearable.”
Gibson and others affected by the shooting continued to share in court the trauma they’ve experienced over the past four years as Caleb Sharpe, who pleaded guilty to killing freshman Sam Strahan and shooting three other students, awaits sentencing in the spring.
The “deep and wide ripples” from the shooting continue to cause “immeasurable” pain, reaching people like Gibson who weren’t present for the shooting but whose lives were still tremendously affected.
After three days of statements this week, more community members are expected to give statements before Judge Michael Price Monday through Thursday.
A chance for victims to speak was refreshing for Stacey Moher, who wrote in her statement that too much time has been spent talking about Sharpe instead of focusing on the victims. Moher is a close family friend of Emma Nees, who was injured in the shooting.
After more than four years of court hearings and delays, Sharpe pleaded guilty last month to aggravated murder, attempted murder and assault.
Throughout all those delays, Moher said, victims had to dig deep to keep their faith in the justice system.
“This takes a toll on these families,” she said.
High school is an exciting time for many teens. A freshman at the time of the shooting, TD, who chose to be identified by his initials when giving his statement, said he was excited to see what high school was all about. The judge allowed people who preferred to use their initials to do so.
“All of that hope was stolen from me by Caleb Sharpe,” he said. “A critical part of my childhood was robbed from me.”
He learned right from wrong at a young age, TD said. Gun safety came with that, learning to handle firearms safely with respect to the damage the weapons can cause, TD explained. Sharpe knew what he was doing was wrong when he brought the guns to school, TD said.
TD was in the hallway when Sharpe shot into a crowd of students. He saw a bullet drop out of one of his classmates’ arms before providing her first aid.
Those traumatizing images will stay with him forever, TD said.
His mother recalled hearing her son’s voice over the phone when they first spoke after the shooting.
“I will never forget the scared and tiny voice on the other end of that phone line,” she said.
After the shooting, she said, her son was different, more closed off, tightening his circle of friends. He will never be the same, she said.
Another student who passed Sharpe with the gun in the hallway, identified as RJ, said school had been a safe place for her after a cancer diagnosis.
Suddenly, after the shooting, her rock was gone, she said. Since then, she has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and PTSD, she said.
“These disorders which no longer make my mind a safe place either,” RJ said.
Most people who spoke Thursday asked Price to give Sharpe the harshest possible sentence.
Pat Lyons, a paraeducator who worked with Sharpe for years, said that it’s normal for people to want to rationalize the shooting or understand the reasoning behind it.
Lyons said it’s impossible to understand the “evil darkness” of Sharpe’s actions.
“There’s no rationalizing this remorseless behavior,” she said.
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