One Year Ago, A Gunman Opened Fire On Our Car

Note: This piece was originally written for and read to a live audience at the A-camp 5.0 staff reading. Edits were made to remove the names of the other shooting victims from print.

Photo by Claire Suer.

Staff reading, May 2014. Photo by Claire Suer.


The pavement was wet that night. The air was warm and the desert seemed to stretch infinitely onwards in every direction. Through the passenger side window, I watched as lightning bolts from storms over 100 miles away collected like static along the edges of the night sky. In the rearview mirror, a pair of dim headlights flickered into view, growing steadily brighter as I nodded off to sleep. My two friends and I were on the last leg of our road trip, driving through the night to get back to Austin, Texas. Everything was quiet, everything was calm, everything was right with the world. Then, suddenly, everything was not.

Around 4:20 a.m. on May 26, an armed gunman pulled up beside us and opened fire on our vehicle. A brief car chase ensued. I slid down in my seat and called 911, sputtering out identifying information and frantically trying to read off street signs as they hurled themselves away from our car. Shot after deafening shot ripped through the humid air. The thuds shook our car as bullets sank into the metal frame — the rear, the left back, the driver’s side door, the hood.

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Bullet hole in the car frame.

When a round finally made it through the window, shattered glass filled my vision as the howling night flooded in. The bullet shattered my phone, took out a chunk of my left wrist, and knocked out a dozen of my teeth. Our driver slammed on the brakes, whipped us around, and hid us in a used car parking lot, lights off. We bent our bodies in half to avoid being seen and waited in the dark for someone to arrive. I saw the headlights as the shooter slowly drove past, searching. They didn’t see us. Instead, they continued down the road. By the end of the night, the shooter hit five people, killing one, before finally being gunned down by a local ranger.

In the emergency room they cut my clothes off. I’d been wearing a cute black, knee-length, rayon A-line dress that I’d bought at Uniqlo just two weeks prior. I was very sorry to lose it. The nurses hooked me up to an IV and placed a vacuum hose between my lips to keep me from choking on my own blood. While they picked out the shards of teeth and glass from my hair, I focused on their name tags. As they wiped me off with a sponge, I complimented their teamwork and tried to make small talk, writing words on a pad of paper when the newly jagged terrain of my mouth meant that I couldn’t make the sounds. I was alone, and what would happen next depended entirely on a bunch of strangers. The only thing I could think to do was try and get them to like me.

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Debris, car interior.

When they rolled me in for the EKG, they told me that it would be okay to cry, which I hadn’t yet, not once. I wondered if that was what a person in my situation was supposed to do. I wondered that a lot in the following weeks and months as I recovered. I drifted in and out of consciousness on my parents’ couch, watching the pundits on an endless loop discussing Michelle Bachmann, and wondered — if my last name was not Mandanas, if the other names involved did not sound similarly Hispanic — would they be talking about us? Did I even want that?

How is it possible that we’re all so deep into American gun culture that it’s no longer considered newsworthy when an active duty soldier leaves his base on Memorial Day Weekend to go on a cross country shooting spree? I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it — except to say that when I turn on the TV or go to the movies and see the massive amounts of casual violence we’re exposed to, it doesn’t seem so far out of reach. What used to bore me now leaves me shaking and crying. And I’m actually very lucky. Because of my various privileges, this will probably be a one time event in my life. Some people have to deal with this day in and day out.

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June 2013.

It will be one year since the shooting this Monday. Again, I’ll be in transit — on the shuttle bus from camp to the airport, then Delta flight 2362 to New York, and then a yellow cab into Brooklyn. In three weeks, I’ll get on a train to upstate New York to start the last round of surgery, finally getting implants to replace the seven teeth I’m still missing.

Right now, everything is quiet. Everything is calm. And everything is not right in the world. Far from so. But everything does seem right on this mountain, at least for a little bit, at least for right now.

Thank you for being here with me.

Avatar of Laura Mandanas

Laura Mandanas is a Filipina American living in Brooklyn. By day, she works as an industrial engineer. By night, she is beautiful and terrible as the morn, treacherous as the seas, stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love her and despair.

Laura has written 56 articles for us.

28 Comments

  1. Thumb up 6

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    Laura, I’m so grateful that I got the chance to meet you at A-Camp after the Introversion event! I was joking with myself beforehand that I definitely would not make any friends at an event about introverts, but then I did. Thank you for talking with me. :)

    This is so horrifying… I’m so glad that you’re okay now. Hearing you read this piece at A-Camp made me cry and feel angry that this happened to you. I’m feeling all those things and more again while reading it…

    <3

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    Laura you are an amazing person and it was so awesome getting to meet you at camp. This had me tearing up just as much as it did when I heard it that night at the staff reading. I hope someday that this whole event and the aftermath of it becomes a distant memory. Gun Crime is no joke but its becoming more and more prevalent. Living in New Orleans I know just how often gun crimes go underreported because of the shear number of them that happens. Something has to be done on a systematic/national level before it becomes commonplace everywhere.

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    Laura this is such a beautiful and brave story. Thank you so much for sharing it. I hope that in time this will be a distant memory but I also hope that this is one more piece of evidence for people who don’t believe that gun culture is really as pervasive and destructive as it is.

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    Laura, this is so terrible and traumatic… I’m sorry you had to experience this, but thank you for sharing with us so openly and honestly <3

    Yet another reminder of the horror and cynicism hidden in America's gun culture.

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    This remains one of the bravest stories I have ever heard. I had so much respect and admiration for you before, but hearing this at camp put it over-the-top. I thought about you that Monday and wondered about how your teeth surgery went and hoped you were okay. Then the next day I heard about Isla Vista and had chills. Now everytime one of those stories pops up (aka every single fking week/day/hour in America) I get SO MAD at my communities acceptance of such a serious problem.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, especially about how you were still THE SWEETEST PERSON EVER (the part about you with the nurses/EMTs is still my favorite part) and teach in me on that mountain what it means to be brave.

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    Laura, your staff reading was so moving. I’ll never forget it. I wanted to tell you then that I live in upstate NY, and I’d be glad to help out if you need anything during the recovery period of your final round of surgery! I mean it. Thanks so much for sharing your story. <3

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