On this December 1, I would like to extend my sympathies to all of the Heath community. I wish you strength and peace on this difficult day and every day.
I would also like to provide an update on the oral history project. The project has been somewhat on pause for a variety of reasons, but we are now ready to resume interviews and hope to speak with survivors (including students, faculty and staff), family members, first responders, journalists, healthcare workers, police, and individuals involved in local and state government and criminal and civil law. Those who have provided their stories so far have shared so much unique knowledge based on their personal and professional experiences. I am sure there is so much more that the Heath community has to share that will enlighten future generations about responding to personal and community tragedy. (All interviews will be made freely available to the public through the Kentucky Historical Society and the Kentucky Oral History Commission and can be reused for non-commercial, educational and research purposes with the written permission of the Kentucky Historical Society.)
Remote Interviews and Self-Recorded Remembrances
Conducting this next round of interviews will now be much easier thanks to new technology. In partnership with the Kentucky Historical Society and the Kentucky Oral History Commission, we have now acquired a subscription to a program, theirstory.io, that will allow us to conduct remote interviews. This platform is similar to Zoom but designed expressly for oral histories (and it does not require a download or membership for interviewees). It will make it faster and simpler to conduct interviews with people now living across Kentucky and the US (and possibly the world) and to upload these interviews for public access. It also allows for interviews to be conducted safely amid the pandemic. Another exciting element of this software that I will be setting up in the coming weeks and months is a self-recording option. With this feature individuals will be able to record short remembrances from their own homes on their own schedules.
I will be reaching out to several people in the near future to try to schedule interviews. If anyone would like to participate in an oral history interview or knows someone else who might, please do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will make an announcement when the self-recording feature is available on heathoralhistories.com.
Please also reach out if you have any questions or suggestions.
I wanted to say a few words in light of the approaching 21st anniversary of the shooting at Heath High School on Saturday, although “anniversary” feels like too positive a word for this sort of marking of time.
I extend my greatest sympathies to those who are still grieving the loss of young lives and to those who still suffer from the trauma of horrific violence within a space that was supposed to be safe. As you well know, grief and anxiety are life-long burdens that can ebb and flow. I hope you find support from loved ones, faith leaders or mental health professionals any time you are struggling.
It is my goal through this oral history project to honor the lives lost and convey the pain, resilience and hard-earned wisdom of those who survived. Beyond this, I hope that these efforts, along with those of the wider community of survivors of mass violence, help ensure that we never have to add any more of these somber anniversaries to our calendars.
Resources for survivors and those who support them:
The Rebels Project is an online support group for survivors of mass trauma. It was started by Columbine survivors after the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. http://therebelsproject.org/
The National Center for PTSD has a variety of resources. Look at the menu on the left, especially under the heading “Get Help.” https://www.ptsd.va.gov/
I recently returned from the Oral History Association’s annual meeting in Montreal. The above is the poster I presented at the conference. It describes the plans for the Heath High School Oral Histories project and provides an overview of the history of the shootings at Heath in 1997 and Marshall County in 2018. The response of visitors to the poster session was similar to that I generally find when I discuss this project. People were very interested and felt that the project was both historically significant and extremely relevant to the current day. However, they were also frustrated by the very fact that this story was so timely––that such tragedy was not confined to the past, but rather continued and repeated through the years into the present.
During the poster session, I also had a very informative discussion with Pamela Schwartz, the chief curator of the Orange County Regional History Center in Orlando who has overseen the OneOrlando Collection, a collection of memorial objects and oral histories from individuals affected by the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting. The work of her team provides an incredible model for preserving memories of a significant but traumatic event in a community’s history. They have expertly navigated a course that balances sensitivity to the memories of the dead and the suffering of the living with awareness of what researchers and the public need to know (which can be different from what they want to know). Given the recency of the Pulse tragedy and the vulnerability of the Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities affected, the OneOrlando team are also working to determine when information will be made available. This concern will be important to keep in mind with ongoing efforts to document memories of the shooting at Marshall County. Most of the survivors are still minors, which makes them especially vulnerable, and the trauma of everyone affected is still very fresh and raw.