Living with the aftermath of murder is never easy for co-victims. It makes liars out of us.
Guns make us liars.
My mother realized, when I started school, that my classmates and teachers would ask if I had any siblings. My deeply religious mother told me to lie and say that I had none. She rationalized her advice, pointing out that, during my lifetime, I had no brothers or sisters. It was literally true.
Yet, an oil painting of my sister hung in our living room. It was not the living room in the house where my sister was murdered. My parents had moved since then.
When I started school and started inviting friends over, I was told to never talk about that oil painting. If anyone asked who was in the picture, I was told to say I didn’t know, or to change the subject. I told one friend, when we were in maybe third grade, along with the warning to never tell anyone—especially not my mother—that I had told.
Decades later, she told me she had kept my secret all that time. She never once told anyone. I was surprised. Maybe she was just too horrified by it to speak the truth out loud to anyone.
My mother had her own issues coping with her brother allegedly murdering her daughter. But, I did learn not to be so open. Unfortunately, that has had its own consequences. I am a very difficult person to get to know. I do not trust anyone.
After I wrote about my sister’s murder, a couple of people I grew up with, all the way through high school, contacted me to tell me they had never heard of my sister’s murder. I felt relieved and a little sad that, for all those years, I was reluctant to get close to people for fear of being rejected. Some people did recoil. But, I will never know how many more might have welcomed me with open arms.
Coping With Guns
Gun owners don’t seek counseling, for possessing guns. I’ve never heard of Gun Owners Anonymous, or Killers Are Us.
But co-victims of gun violence need emotional support. Maybe we need to introduce a gun tax for Co-Victims Support. You owe us. Your GUN damaged us. There was no blood involved. A co-victim is someone who is connected to someone who was shot, or to a shooter. But, damn, we are damaged.
Each co-victim has to find the method that works for them. Sometimes that method changes over time.
I started out in Group Therapy. But, even there, I lied. Okay, I “omitted.” I could not bring myself to discuss being a co-victim of a shooting in front of 18 people. I couldn’t. I just said I was depressed. So was everyone else and no one pried. I tried Group several times. I don’t dismiss other’s mental health issues. But, co-victims are special. We know what triggered—pun intended—our issues. It was a gun. Pay up. Let’s add a special gun tax that goes exclusively to treat the 7 co-victims of every shooting.
Not enough money, you say? We can hike that tax.
I was 31 years old before I decided to seek professional therapy. I had tried other solutions. They did not work. I will talk about that some other time.
It was then that I realized that I could not afford a psychiatrist. I have lost count of how many counselors I have seen. The only ones who truly helped me and with whom I felt a connection had a PhD. I have spent hours with master’s level counselors who were truly wonderful listeners but they lacked what I needed. I didn’t just need one person, an hour at a time, who was kind. I needed someone who saw the trauma for what it was. Any kind of violence is traumatizing. But someone shoots someone to death, that’s a special kind of damage.
I eventually worked out payment plans and paid for PhD support, including being tested for PTSD. I was lucky. I suspect there are many co-victims who cannot afford to be tested, or to gain access to PhD level support.
I am sure there are mental health professionals who will challenge me on that. I’m sure I am hurting people’s feelings. I am merely telling my personal and very real person as someone who is a double co-victim of violence. I stand by what I’m saying. You cannot speak for me. Not any more.
I’m not sure how anyone could be a gun violence co-victim without experiencing PTSD. Medical Insurance hardly ever, or never, covers PhD level psychiatric counseling. I suspect that is by design by insurance providers who don’t want to pay for PhD level services.
I appreciate well-intentioned counselors with less education. But, as someone experiencing PTSD from the other side, it is not enough. I will forever insist that masters level counselors are insufficient when it comes to being a co-victim of a shooting.
Every co-victim should have the opportunity to be tested for PTSD, if they choose. In my town, I could only find a psychiatrist who was able to administer the full PTSD exam, someone with a PhD. But, the APA only requires graduate level training, and even allows graduate students, under PhD oversight, to conduct the test.
The American Psychological Association's ethical guidelines on psychological test instruments require advanced graduate-level training in the administration and interpretation of psycho-diagnostic assessment instruments.
There are people who offer to diagnose PTSD without a full-on PTSD exam. I have heard people self-assess. Having been through it, I promise you that it needs to be done properly. Remember, guns make co-victims liars. We devote a lot of time to avoiding the facts of what we have experienced.
The PTSD exam is l-o-o-o-o-n-g and exhausting. There is more than one “brand” of exam but the one I took was given over the course of two days. It involved an oral assessment along with an extensive pencil-and-paper test.
It’s fascinating to take. The questions are obviously designed to drill down through the lies. I highly recommend it, as a patient who has taken it. Just answering the questions honestly was a relief.
Part of my goal was to stop the lies that guns have made me tell. I don’t like to lie. I don’t lie about other things. I’m very selective. But, for years I put a vast amount of effort into lying about being a co-victim. I do believe that having been tested helped focus counseling. I still insist on a PhD, for myself.
The law needs to change. Every co-victim should be entitled to PhD level assistance. Gun owners need to pay for it, for as long as we and our counselors determine we need that help, which is probably for the rest of our lives.
Yes. One bullet can kill in a second. It impacts the seven of us forever. You owe us.
Grief is important after loss. I know that.
Normal grieving has never seemed to work for me. I was so grateful when I discovered that even Elizabeth Kübler-Ross realized her model of the five stages of death and dying was flawed. Over the decades, I have vacillated between the stages, frustrated that I couldn’t move gracefully from stage one to stage five, in sequence.
For a number of years now, I have been in and out of anger. No, maybe I should call it rage. RAGE.
Co-victims have a lot to rage about. Not the least of which is having to decide whether to speak Our Truth. A lot of us refuse to admit our connection to a murder victim or a murderer. It’s difficult to talk about.
People judge us. I was six years old when I first heard someone call me “that Edwards girl.” A classmate invited me to a sleepover. We giggled as we planned how I would bring my pajamas and a Barbie doll to school on Friday. Then I would go home with her, after class. My mother would pick me up Saturday morning. We were so excited!
Thursday night I got what was probably my first phone call ever. My mother handed the phone to me and I heard this little six-year-old voice say, “Hi, Judy. My mom says you can’t come over to my house.”
In the background, I heard her mother say, “Don’t ever bring that little Edwards girl to our house.”
I knew what she meant. She didn’t want the sister of some dead girl in her house. She didn’t want the niece (me) of an alleged murderer in her house.
I understood why I needed to lie.
A gun did that to me.
I was six years old.
I never felt the same toward that classmate again.
I saw her at school all the way through senior year.
She stopped speaking to me.
I stopped speaking to her.
We never got to have that sleepover.
I did nothing wrong.
I was born.
A gun and three bullets did that to me.
That was it.
Yet, ours was just one relationship that was altered by the Truth.
I would forever be “that little Edwards girl.”
Survivors endure lies, lots of them.
Survivors tell lies.
Survivors sometimes prefer lies.
Sometime even we don’t know the facts.
Perhaps the trauma of a violent death hinders our ability to accept truth.
Several of my cousins prefer lies, to this day. “True Detective” magazine, an exploitation publication, ran two different stories about my sister’s murder, several years apart. Each time, the articles were filled with misinformation, which I addressed in my book.
I tried to reach out to the author. I discovered he used a pseudonym. He hid behind a pen name. The magazine has gone out of business. I have no option for correcting either story. Its just one more lie and I have no choice but to live with it.
I have cousins who still insist that I got things wrong in my book, even after I had pored over my sister’s diaries and interviewed family, friends, neighbors and law enforcement extensively. My own family prefers to believe “True Detective.” Some refuse to even read my fact-filled book.
I have a copy of “True Detective” from when they ran the first story. I have never even seen the second story. I have never located a copy. Family members have copies. But they won’t let me see them. They smile and refuse to pull them from their filing cabinets or wherever the issue is, because they have something I don’t. They choose to believe those lies.
They won’t even go to a copy shop and print out a copy of the article for me.
They prefer the lies.
They want believe an exploitation magazine over the facts.
My family prefers the lies.
Apparently they find them comforting.
It crushes me.
Send me that Gun Tax.
Gun owners owe me.
There were other lies. A neighbor, across the field from the farmette where I grew up after my parents sold the house where my sister was murdered, told me decades later that she was always afraid of our house. Our house!
She was about my sister’s age and, in her mind, the murder took place just across the field from where this girl lived. This neighbor told me, in great detail, how the murderer had ransacked our house and there was blood and chaos everywhere. She told me the story as though I needed to know how violent the murder was, as if three bullets weren’t enough. It was obvious she enjoyed relaying the story. It sounded as though she had repeated it, in detail, over the years and felt it was important for me to hear how brutal the murder was.
Her version is all lies.
But, in her teenage memory, that was the truth.
She was a nice person. Her sister was a local beauty queen. Our families were close enough that, when her parents retired and moved from Illinois to Las Vegas, my parents and I went to visit them. But, that family never came across the field to visit us. It wasn’t until decades later that I realized why. She was afraid of our house. Perhaps her parents were, as well.
The reality was that the local newspaper sent out a camera crew, which probably consisted of one person with their own darkroom, and they took photos of the crime scene probably within two or three hours of my sister being shot to death. The dining room table had been carefully tipped on end, by law enforcement so they could search the dining room for more bullets or bullet casings. Everything else was neat as a pin. Even in the black-and-white photo, there was no blood in the house. There was a blood-stained patch of grass near the alley, behind the house. But, there was no blood in the house.
She had conjured up a lie. She didn’t mean to. But, she did. She chose to live with that lie.
Gun owners owe me.
The Passage of Time
I prefer to live with the facts. It is much harder, but I decided a long time ago that I want to live my life that way.
Now, I usually tell people about my murdered sister, almost immediately after they meet me. Murder is not my favorite topic but, somewhere along the way, Rage took over. It enrages me that I should have to lie about having a sister just because people don’t want to hear that she was murdered. She was a real person, with a real life.
Murder is easy for me to bring up. All anyone has to do is start talking about their siblings. Sooner or later, it is my turn to share. I now tell people I had a sister. When they ask what happened to her, I tell them the whole story. Flat out. In detail. No, my family story is not fun.
You are far from being the first.
I wasn’t even born when my sister was murdered. It does not matter if it bothers you to hear that my sister was shot to death in our dining room. Imagine what it is like for me to have to tell you about it? But, it is my Truth.
While I tell people, I watch their reactions. I listen to the words they use. I watch their body language. I watch whether they move just a little bit away.
Do you step away, after hearing about my life?
Do you talk to me the same afterward?
I don’t even need to answer those questions. Most of the time, you back away.
A few people have macabre fascination and ask intrusive questions.
I used to not answer them.
Now, I speak the Truth.
I’m used to lies.
I’m used to being entertainment, for certain people.
Those people reveal an awful lot about themselves, and their respect for life.
They reveal to me their insensitivity.
For them, I sometimes tell the story in gorier detail than necessary, while sticking to the truth, hoping it will shock them. I have gotten pretty good at knowing what detail might quiet their questions.
I have an example. After my father passed away, I went to the cemetery to put decorations on his grave. My sister is buried next to him.
I noticed two women squinting carefully at names and dates on tombstones, but didn’t think too much about it. They moved closer and closer, one woman following the other by a few yards. One of the women came over to me and whispered, “Did you know that there is a young girl buried in this cemetery who was murdered?” She glanced at her friend, with a sly smile, like she was telling me a shocking secret.
I pointed to the white angel on the grave next to me.
“Yes, you’re talking about my sister. She’s buried right here,” I said. Both women looked startled.
I saw my opportunity. Yes, I have Rage.
I continued, “My uncle murdered her and he’s buried on down in this row.”
I motioned for them to follow me as I walked toward my uncle’s grave. “Come on,” I said. “Let me show you.”
I looked over my shoulder, to see them walking quickly back to their car.
A gun instilled that Rage in me.
We Are Due
Gun owners should fund every moment of mental health we need, for as long as we need it. I view PTSD like alcoholism. PTSD is forever. You just learn to handle it, as best you can.
But that is expensive, especially for PhD level, which currently runs about $120/hour in my town, more in larger cities. So, expensive that so many of us who want help can’t access the level we need.
I tell my Truth now.
We need that Gun Tax. Co-Victims deserve it. Gun owners owe us.
Stay tuned to future posts. I am about to share so much more.
Would you support an extra tax on gun owners, to support co-victims?
Would you support an extra tax on gun owners, to support co-victims?
Guns are more important than people.
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