Tuesday marks five years since a gunman killed 12 people in a mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks.
To commemorate those lost and look back on the progress made in the half-decade since that devastating night, the city of Thousand Oaks is hosting an event focused on reflection and renewal at the Healing Garden at Conejo Creek North in Thousand Oaks at 1739 E. Janss Road.
The event, which runs from 3 to 5 p.m., is a chance for survivors, first responders, friends and family of those lost, and the community at large to come together following an unspeakable tragedy that changed all of their lives.
For families of the 12 killed on Nov. 7, 2018, the pain is still there for many, even if it isn’t always the same as it was in the immediate aftermath.
Grief hits each person differently depending on their particular situation, said Laura Lynn Meek, whose 22-year-old son Justin was killed that night. But that doesn’t mean it goes away with time, she says.
“The best way I can describe it is ebb tide,” said Meek. “The moon rotates around the world, we have no control over that, and water comes in and out.”
For Meek, some days feel more like a “tsunami,” she said, especially when violent shootings keep happening, including last month’s slaying of 18 people in Maine.
“You’re hurt and you have a wound, and that wound has to heal. For things to take place, like other shootings, that’s like ripping a scab off of that wound,” she said. “You can let that wound heal, but you still may wind up with a nasty scar. That nasty scar is never going to go away.”
Michael Morisette, whose 20-year-old daughter Kristina was killed, also cited the Maine shooting as a difficult day. As for the pain, he said that “some of it never goes away,” but he’s found that speaking with others about grief and listening to their stories in return has been the biggest help for him.
“If you’re sharing with somebody who has experienced things at similar levels, then obviously there’s more you have in common,” he said. “So the other part of that is finding out that you’re not alone and you’re not going crazy, because there’s someone sitting in front of you talking about the same thing from their side and they don’t seem to be crazy. Learning from myself, learning from others, getting to learn that this is what happens, this is how we’re supposed to respond. I learned a great deal by interacting with others and even in my work, listening to other people interact. I just feel like it’s really educational.”
“I have made numerous contacts with people all over the world at this point, and sometimes it helps having someone reach out who doesn’t necessarily know your exact story, but knows enough of it so they can have a conversation with you with a little more passion and understanding than someone who hasn’t been exposed to the other aspects of what happens when you have a child taken from you,” she said. “I don’t ever say I lost Justin. Justin was taken from me. I knew exactly where he was, and if there was someone in this world who knew where they were going, it was Justin.”
On Tuesday, many with this shared pain will gather to talk about what happened and the years since, which Morisette hopes could prove helpful.
“Good things can happen from bad experiences,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that we want to have a bunch of bad experiences, but when these things happen, we should or we need to take the opportunity and find out what we should be learning. To me, that’s what resilience is… Resilience can be something that you’ve already begun building up and you can lean on it heavily when you need it. That kind of keeps you afloat.”
Meek points to her daughter Victoria Rose as a “shining example” of that resilience. A survivor of the shooting that night and the fatal fires that broke out in Thousand Oaks and nearby cities the next day, she went on to graduate from college and join the military.
But again, everyone handles grief and trauma differently, Meek said, and she hopes those in attendance come away with a desire to help those in the community. It was a passion of Justin’s that lives on through the Cal Lutheran hockey team’s honoring of their former manager and a scholarship at the school. To donate to that scholarship fund, click here.
“Justin is and always will be our hometown hero,” she said.
Along with the good Morisette hopes will come from Tuesday’s event, he also stressed that survivors and others impacted shouldn’t be discouraged if they’re still in pain. Instead, they should look at how they’re getting a little bit better, day by day, at “carry[ing that pain] without it holding you back.”
“It sounds like there’s a completion point where you’re healed now, and that’s not the case,” he said. “Healing is something that’s going to take the rest of your life. It’s a journey and not a destination.”