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Standing Still in a Culture of Mass Shootings

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On September 16, 2013 Jennifer was at work on the fifth deck of the Washington Navy Yard. At 8:10 a.m. she heard, “Pop, pop, pop.” She made the decision to go down the stairwell to exit the building. God gave her a hymn that morning. “He had never done that before,” shares Jennifer. As she walked down the stairs she hummed, “It is well with my soul.” When she reached the stairwell landing “between decks,” she walked into the shooter, ten paces away, holding a sawed-off shotgun pointed directly at her.

As she came face to face with the shooter she was not surprised, shocked or afraid. “The only way I can describe what I felt that makes any sense is my very being knew the presence of God standing with me,” recalls Jennifer. As she stood in the stairwell with the shooter she felt complete peace. “There was also the sensation of someone behind me pressing lightly down on my shoulders so I would stand still.” She says, “There was never a thought I would not live. My very being knew I would survive.” God allowed her to see the shooter with His view. “I did not see evil, I saw him (the shooter). I saw brokenness…I saw a man with brown eyes.”

She witnessed him make the decision to shoot her. She knew she was to remain still although she did not know the reason at the time. She watched the shot as it slammed into her left shoulder and chest which created a 5 by 5-inch hole as it exited her body. The shot also connected with her left hand striking two fingers and ripping open her thumb. She closed her eyes and took a step back. When she opened her eyes, the shooter was gone. As she told herself to stop screaming and access the wound she heard Jesus say, “You need to call out to me.” She began walking up the stairs in an effort to find a way out of the building. “I walked with Jesus from the third deck to the sixth – in other words, five sets of twelve stairs.” Two men had gone ahead of her after she was shot in an effort to help find a way out of the building. She met the floor warden on the sixth floor and he helped her continue up to the seventh floor. The other man, Captain Zawislak, had found a way out on the roof. There was one other co-worker on the roof.  Later she would learn the only stairwell with access to the roof is the one they went through and normally it was locked for safety reasons. “I know God prepared the path to safety for the four of us.”  To ensure the bleeding would stop, Capt. Zawislak took his jacket off and stuffed the sleeves and collar into the front and back of her gaping wounds. You could literally see through Jennifer because of her wounds. They wrote a note and threw it over the side of the building to let law enforcement know they needed help and were on the roof. An hour passed and there was still no sign of a rescue. In an effort to stop the bleeding and keep Jennifer from going into shock Capt. Zawislak maintained pressure to her wounds on her front and back for sixty minutes in a squatting position. The SWAT team finally reached the roof at about the hour and twenty-minute mark. The SWAT team was unsure if they were hostiles on the roof so they rushed in with shotguns pointing at them. A helicopter appeared over the roof with a metal basket. She climbed in the basket suspended below the helicopter and took a two-minute flight at 70 mph to the hospital. She thanked God on her way to the hospital for the opportunity to serve Him through this event. Shortly after she was rescued they found the shooter hiding. He was later shot after shooting at law enforcement officers.

When doctors examined her wounds, they were surprised she was still alive. Jennifer later learned that if she had not remained still she would not have survived. Jennifer says medical experts told her that, “There is a one-and-a-half-inch space in the upper arm where the nerves that run from your neck over the shoulder and down the arm and the major artery located along your collarbone and underneath of the arm that you can be shot and survive. This was the exact one and a half inches the double 00 shot perfectly hit to allow me to maintain use of my left arm and live.” She spent the next two years in rehab and recovery.

She credits the faith and strength she gained from her great grandparents, grandparents and parents as what carried her through this difficult time. “Not persevering was not an option; it was a requirement,” shares Jennifer. She recalled her family’s legacy during her recovery days. Her great grandfather Harry lost his butcher business but started from scratch again to build a successful career. Her grandmother, Vivian, was told she would never walk again but ended up walking five miles a day. Her mother who fought illness her whole life, nearly died twice, battled back so she could be a mother to her children. For these reasons and more she returned to work in February of 2014 although there were medical reasons to remain at home and recuperate. She returned to work, but not Building 197 (the building she previously worked in). The damage to the building was extensive and everyone had to be relocated. The building would re-open on February 2015, seventeen months after the shooting. By then some of the workers had retired, moved on to different positions, or simply refused to go back inside the building. For Jennifer, she had no problem entering the building. When she walked up and down the stairs where she was previously shot she explains, “I felt no sense of trauma, or dread, or flashback.” Jennifer suffered no symptoms of PTSD which she gives God the credit. Jennifer retired in 2018.

“For me, the physical pain from my injuries was and continues to be, considerable,” shares Jennifer. She has twelve screws and a plate holding things together so she can use her left arm properly. Her thumb which was blown in half is constantly in pain and throbbing because the nerve endings have grown outside the protective sheath of her thumb.

A couple of months after the shooting Jennifer knew she was supposed to speak about the shooting, her faith, leadership, and how God gives each person a purpose and journey. She was invited to be a key note speaker at a Christian women’s conference, something she would have never imagined she would do. God continued to open the doors for speaking engagements.

Jennifer was featured in ShowTime’s documentary, Active Shooter: America Under Fire Episode 04: Washington, D.C. which aired in October 2017.

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