Home CommentaryStudent Life One year later: How the Dawson shooting helped me

One year later: How the Dawson shooting helped me

by Archives September 11, 2007

Just a few weeks shy of turning 19, a tall, muscular young man with dark hair and an earring stands near the entrance to the Atrium at Dawson College. He may stop and look at the doors where a dark figure once stood and think back to September 13, 2006. But oftentimes, he may just walk past and carry on with his day.
If you stopped to look at him, you’d think he’s just another Dawson student. It’s doubtful you’d know his young eyes have seen far more than one should ever have to see in a lifetime.? It’s also doubtful you’d know the boy with such a vibrant smile has lived through one of the darkest moments imaginable.
Just about a year ago, James Santos told The Concordian what really happened?one dark, gray morning, when?a mysterious man walked into Dawson College and changed the lives of everyone there. With a gun to his back, Santos led the soon to be nicknamed “Dawson Shooter” around the building, praying in what he thought were his last moments, thinking this was?the end of the road for him.
He was wrong. For eighteen minutes, Santos feared the worst for himself. And as if that wasn’t enough, he watched as the unknown gunman shot his friend, Anastasia De Sousa, in the stomach.
He watched as she lay on the floor shaking, until she was shot several more times. Then he knew she was dead. Moments later, the man threatening Santos’ life, pulled the trigger on himself, ending his?own life.?Santos watched as he fell to the ground.
Is it possible to move on after such a traumatizing day? Is it possible to find light at the end of such a dark tunnel? According what Santos related when he spoke to The Concordian this week, it is.
“You’ll never forgive it,” Santos says of the tragic day at Dawson. “But what you can do is accept it. You don’t have to be happy about it, but you can accept that what happened happened and move on.”
Unlike the attitude expected of him, Santos says he is actually quite optimistic and seems to have drawn a positive outcome from a not-so-positive experience.
Santos plans to finish the year at Dawson?and begin training?as a firefighter next September. As he told The Concordian only days after the shooting, Santos has stuck to his decision and promised himself he will devote his second chance at life to helping others.
“I’ve realized that I can handle myself and be prepared for chaotic situations,” Santos says of his learning experience from last year’s shooting.
“In one way it helped me quite a bit. I like helping people and I know that if I become a firefighter, I can do that.”
Though Santos is now traveling down an optimistic path, he says this past year has been somewhat of an emotional roller-coaster ride.
In the months following the shooting, Santos often woke in the middle of the night from bad dreams. He also says he knew there was something not right about who he was becoming in the first few months after the shooting.
“I noticed that I wasn’t exactly the same.” After a moment of looking for the right words to explain himself, Santos says, “I didn’t want to have responsibility like I did that day.”
He says his temper was more easily aggravated and he had little patience for everyone around him.
Santos acknowledges his blatant disregard for the feelings of others as his new persona was one of living life one day at a time and doing whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.
However, on his own, Santos came to the realization that the events that had transpired would never be erased and would never be changed. He would never wake up and find out that he had succeeded in saving De Sousa’s life and he would never wake up and have no recollection of the day she died.
“I was devastated and I had my moments. But I just didn’t want to be like that. I tried as hard as I could to put it behind me,” he says.
While he knows he will never forget, he says he is choosing to let the incident serve as a learning experience and instead of filling himself with anger and hatred, he has decided to let his anger go.
Santos’ feelings toward the gunman are also unusual, by the standards of many of the people around him.
“Even if I blame him or be angry?with him, what is it going to solve? It’s not going to bring her back. It’s not going to take away that memory that I have.”
He doesn’t want to feel the same anger De Sousa’s killer had; the anger which led him to hurt innocent people.
In fact, Santos’ only angry feelings are actually directed toward the media.
“The media concentrated on him [the killer]?too much. Screw him. Explain what he did and that’s it,” he says.
Santos’ main problem with the media representation of the man, whose face is now forever etched in his mind, is that it encourages others to do the same hateful acts. It glorifies the wrong person and leaves the victims in the background, only to be forgotten.
“Look at Polytechnique. All those girls, no one knows their names. But everyone knows the name of the guy who killed them,” he says.
With a picture of De Sousa on the mirror in his bedroom, Santos obviously thinks of that day from time to time, especially when he is alone.
Though he tries not to let it control his life. He knows that what’s done is done and can never be changed.
He did the best he could to try and help save his friend, but it was simply out of his control.
Santos had an angel tattooed over his right shoulder as a symbol of the guardian angel who was with him that day.
The word ‘courage’ is tattooed down the left side of his rib cage, to remind him both of his strength and the fact that he can survive.
Though he wasn’t always quite so optimistic all the time, Santos has resumed life as an 18-year-old college kid.
“When there’s a party, I’m there. I’m always ready,” he says. Though getting back to normal took some time, Santos values the good times he shared with his friends and family.
He also says his experience that morning at Dawson has helped him mature much faster. He has always had a fear of flying, and while he still isn’t crazy about it, he is more relaxed when he flies.
“When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go,” he says, accepting that he can’t hide behind his fears.
He takes life one day at a time and instead of hating a killer he didn’t even know, he holds near to him the memory of a friend whose name should not be forgotten.
?”I think about her. She was going to school, happy, not knowing she wouldn’t see the next morning.”
Right after her death, Santos wasn’t able to bring himself to visit De Sousa’s grave. He pauses before he explains.
“I just wasn’t ready,” he says.
He plans to finally visit his friend where she has been laid to rest this coming week, on Sept. 13, the anniversary of the day she took her last breath, but also the anniversary of the day Santos learned that even in our darkest moments, we can find a glimmer of? hope.

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