Louisvillians grapple with complex emotions after mass shooting — and find solace in solidarity
Mental health experts say the aftermath of a mass shooting brings up complex feelings, but finding community can help people cope.
Just hours after a man shot up an Old National Bank downtown Monday, dozens of people gathered outside Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church and found a slice of community together.
Soni Castleberry led the vigil and passed a microphone to anyone who wanted to speak.
“It doesn’t have to be a prayer. It can be a rant. It can be a yell. It can be a chant,” she told the solemn crowd. “It can be anything you want it to be. But something that you would like to share.”
Angela Lincoln, a Louisville teacher, accepted the mic first.
“We cannot create a culture where we are all packing guns to keep ourselves safe,” she said, her voice strained with emotion. “We have just got to stop this.”
Like Lincoln, many Louisvillians are grappling with complex feelings after a man killed five people and injured several others Monday morning. Local police quickly arrived at the bank, where they shot and killed the gunman.
The city is already dealing with a crisis of gun violence. And that can weigh heavily on the process of trying to cope.
“It makes sense for people to feel like the system is working against them,” Eric Russ, executive director of the Kentucky Psychological Association, said.
“You're living through the Breonna Taylor killing and the protests and reading the DOJ report,” he said, referencing the U.S. Department of Justice’s recently released investigative findings about abuses of power by the Louisville Metro Police Department.
Russ said it’s common to feel helplessness or anger after exposure to mass violence. Even following local news can be traumatizing.
“You're going to have some strong emotions, and that's okay,” he said.
These intense, complex emotions can be rooted in local residents’ concerns about a national pattern of mass shootings. A pattern Louisville could not escape.
National and Kentucky Democrats, including Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg, have called for legislators to change gun laws since the shooting.
But the Kentucky Legislature is run by Republicans. And it’s actually weakened restrictions on guns since the GOP won control of that branch of government in November 2016.
Democratic state Rep. Josie Raymond of Louisville said she’s rarely had a good-faith conversation with Republican lawmakers on the issue of gun control.
She says there is one thing that could shift the status quo. But it could take decades.
“It's going to take electoral change to have a more representative body and the more even distribution of party representation,” she said. “And what that probably takes is generational change.”
For now, the younger generation is growing up under the shadow of gun violence, especially Black Louisvillians like 15-year-old Brooklyn White.
The first flicker of anger within her began in 2020 at the racial justice protests in response to Louisville police shooting and killing 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in her apartment. And Brooklyn wanted to use that emotion for good.
She’s part of Justice Now, which teaches and brainstorms solutions with Jefferson County Public Schools students about systemic issues.
But she is also torn between her love for Louisville and a growing feeling that she would be safer if she left. She’s still holding out hope.
“I continue to advocate for my city. I continue to fight for my people and to be an active member in the community, because I love my city,” she said. “It's just my city's crazy.”
Russ, the clinical psychologist, said it’s healthy to share how you’re feeling with other people.
“It's a hard fight, and we're not winning. And if you're going to be in a fight, when you're not winning, you need a good team,” he said. “Making that action – (and) feeling like you're in community with others who are making that action – can help you feel supported in a way that helps you process and move through the trauma.”
Across Louisville, people are coming together in hopes of finding solace in solidarity. One way they’re doing that is through vigils like the one Monday at Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church, and the city-organized vigil at the Muhammad Ali Center that starts Wednesday at 5 p.m.