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They were injured at the Super Bowl parade. A month later, they feel forgotten

Christopher Smith for KFF Health News

Jason Barton didn't want to attend the Super Bowl parade this year. He told a co-worker the night before that he worried about a mass shooting. But it was Valentine's Day, his wife is a Kansas City Chiefs superfan, and he couldn't afford to take her to games since ticket prices soared after the team won the NFL championship in 2020.

So Barton drove 50 miles from Osawatomie, Kan., to downtown Kansas City, Mo., with his wife, Bridget; her 13-year-old daughter, Gabriella; and Gabriella's school friend. When they finally arrived home that night, they cleaned blood from Gabriella's sneakers and found a bullet in Bridget's backpack.

Gabriella's legs were burned by sparks from a ricocheted bullet, Bridget was trampled while shielding Gabriella in the chaos, and Jason gave chest compressions to a man injured by gunfire. He believes it was Lyndell Mays, one of two men charged with second-degree felony murder.

"There's never going to be a Valentine's Day where I look back and I don't think about it," Gabriella said, "because that's a day where we're supposed to have fun and appreciate the people that we have."

One month after the parade in which the U.S. public health crisis that is gun violence played out on live television, the Bartons are reeling from their role at its epicenter.

They were just feet from 43-year-old Lisa Lopez-Galvan, who was killed. Twenty-four other people were injured. Although the Bartons aren't included in that official victim number, they were traumatized, physically and emotionally, and pain permeates their lives: Bridget and Jason keep canceling plans to go out, opting instead to stay home together; Gabriella plans to join a boxing club instead of the dance team.

During this first month, Kansas City community leaders have weighed how to care for people caught in the bloody crossfire and how to divide more than $2 million donated to public funds for victims in the initial outpouring of grief.

The questions are far-reaching: How does a city compensate people for medical bills, recovery treatments, counseling and lost wages? And what about those who have PTSD-like symptoms that could last years? How does a community identify and care for victims often overlooked in the first flush of reporting on a mass shooting: the injured?

The injured list could grow. Prosecutors and Kansas City police are mounting a legal case against four of the shooting suspects and are encouraging additional victims to come forward.

"Specifically, we're looking for individuals who suffered wounds from their trying to escape. A stampede occurred while people were trying to flee," said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. Anyone who "in the fleeing of this event that maybe fell down, you were trampled, you sprained an ankle, you broke a bone."

Meanwhile, people who took charge of raising money and providing services to care for the injured are wrestling with who gets the money — and who doesn't. Due to large donations from celebrities like Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce, some victims or their families will have access to hundreds of thousands of dollars for medical expenses. Other victims might only have their counseling covered.

The overall economic cost of U.S. firearm injuries is estimated by a recent Harvard Medical School study at $557 billion annually. Most of that — 88% — represented quality-of-life losses among those injured by firearms and their families. The JAMA-published study found that each nonfatal firearm injury leads to roughly $30,000 in direct health care spending per survivor in the first year alone.

In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, as well-intentioned GoFundMe pages popped up to help victims, executives at United Way of Greater Kansas City gathered to devise a collective donation response. They came up with "three concentric circles of victims," said Jessica Blubaugh, the United Way of Greater Kansas City's chief philanthropy officer, and launched the #KCStrong campaign.

"There were folks that were obviously directly impacted by gunfire. Then the next circle out is folks that were impacted, not necessarily by gunshots, but by physical impact. So maybe they were trampled and maybe they tore a ligament or something because they were running away," Blubaugh said. "Then third is folks that were just adjacent and/or bystanders that have a lot of trauma from all of this."

PTSD, panic and the echo of gunfire

Bridget Barton returned to Kansas City the day after the shooting to turn in the bullet she found in her backpack and to give a statement at police headquarters. Unbeknownst to her, Mayor Quinton Lucas and the police and fire chiefs had just finished a press conference outside the building. She was mobbed by the media assembled there — interviews that are now a blur.

"I don't know how you guys do this every day," she recalled telling a detective once she finally got inside.

The Bartons have been overwhelmed by well wishes from close friends and family as they navigate the trauma, almost to the point of exhaustion. Bridget took to social media to explain she wasn't ignoring the messages, she's just responding as she feels able — some days, she said, she can hardly look at her phone.

A family friend bought new Barbie blankets for Gabriella and her friend after the ones they brought to the parade were lost or ruined. Bridget tried replacing the blankets herself at her local Walmart, but when she was bumped accidentally, it triggered a panic attack. She abandoned her cart and drove home.

"I'm trying to get my anxiety under control," Bridget said.

That means therapy. Before the parade, she was already seeing a therapist and planning to begin eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing, a form of therapy associated with treating post-traumatic stress disorder. Now the shooting is the first thing she wants to talk about in therapy.

Since Gabriella, an eighth grader, has returned to middle school, she has dealt with the compounding immaturity of adolescence: some peers telling her to get over it, pointing finger guns at her, or even saying it should have been her who was shot. But her friends are checking on her and asking how she's doing. She wishes more people would do the same for her friend, who took off running when the shooting started and avoided injury. Gabriella feels guilty about bringing her to what turned into a horrifying experience.

"We can tell her all day long, 'It wasn't your fault. She's not your responsibility.' Just like I can tell myself, 'It wasn't my fault or my responsibility,' " Bridget said. "But I still bawled on her mom's shoulder telling her how sorry I was that I grabbed my kid first."

The two girls have spent a lot of time talking since the shooting, which Gabriella said helps with her own stress. So does spending time with her dog and her lizard, putting on makeup and listening to music — Tech N9ne's performance was a highlight of the Super Bowl celebration for her.

In addition to the spark burns on Gabriella's legs, when she fell to the concrete in the pandemonium she split open a burn wound on her stomach previously caused by a styling iron.

"When I see that, I just picture my mom trying to protect me and seeing everyone run," Gabriella said of the wound.

Bridget Barton's daughter, Gabriella, had a previous burn on her stomach from a styling iron that reopened when she fell to the concrete at the parade. Seeing it now prompts memories of her mom protecting her at the chaotic scene. In the weeks since, she has decided to join a boxing club instead of a dance team.
/ Christopher Smith for KFF Health News
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Christopher Smith for KFF Health News
Bridget Barton's daughter, Gabriella, had a previous burn on her stomach from a styling iron that reopened when she fell to the concrete at the parade. Seeing it now prompts memories of her mom protecting her at the chaotic scene. In the weeks since, she has decided to join a boxing club instead of a dance team.

It's hard not to feel forgotten by the public, Bridget said. The shooting, especially its survivors, have largely faded from the headlines aside from court dates. Two additional high-profile shootings have occurred in the area since the parade. Doesn't the community care, she wonders, that her family is still living with the fallout every day?

"I'm going to put this as plainly as possible. I'm f***ing pissed because my family went through something traumatic," Bridget vented in a recent social media post. "I don't really want anything other [than], 'Your story matters, too, and we want to know how you're doing.' Have we gotten that? Abso-f******-lutely not."

"What is the landscape of need?"

Helped in part by celebrities like Swift and Kelce, donations for the family of Lopez-Galvan, the lone fatality, and for other victims poured in immediately after the shootings. Swift and Kelce donated $100,000 each. With the help of an initial $200,000 donation from the Kansas City Chiefs, the United Way's #KCStrong campaign took off, reaching $1 million in the first two weeks and sitting at about $1.2 million now.

Six verified GoFundMe funds were established. One solely for the Lopez-Galvan family has collected over $406,000. Smaller ones were started by a local college student and Swift fans. Churches have also stepped up, and one local coalition had raised $183,000, money set aside for Lopez-Galvan's funeral, counseling services for five victims and for other medical bills from Children's Mercy Kansas City hospital, said Ray Jarrett, executive director of Unite KC.

Meanwhile, those leading the efforts found models in other cities. The United Way's Blubaugh called counterparts who'd responded to their own mass shootings in Orlando, Fla.; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Newtown, Conn.

"The unfortunate reality is we have a cadre of communities across the country who have already faced tragedies like this," Blubaugh said. "So there is an unfortunate protocol that is, sort of, already in place."

#KCStrong monies could start being paid out by the end of March, Blubaugh said. Hundreds of people called the nonprofit's 211 line, and the United Way is consulting with hospitals and law enforcement to verify victims and then offer services they might need, she said.

Bridget Barton works on a corsage for a family member's wedding at home in Osawatomie, Kan. Barton now uses arts and crafts projects as a therapeutic way to deal with the trauma she experienced during the shootings at the Super Bowl parade in Kansas City, Mo.
/ Christopher Smith for KFF Health News
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Christopher Smith for KFF Health News
Bridget Barton works on a corsage for a family member's wedding at home in Osawatomie, Kan. Barton now uses arts and crafts projects as a therapeutic way to deal with the trauma she experienced during the shootings at the Super Bowl parade in Kansas City, Mo.

The range of needs is staggering — some are recovering at home from gunshot wounds, some are seeking counseling, and many weren't even counted in the beginning. For instance, a plainclothes police officer was injured in the melee but is doing fine now, said Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves.

Determining who is eligible for assistance was one of the first conversations United Way officials had when creating the fund. They prioritized three areas of focus: first were the wounded victims and their families, second was collaborating with organizations already helping victims in violence intervention and prevention and mental health services, and third were the first responders.

Specifically, the funds will be steered to cover medical bills or lost wages for those who haven't been able to work since the shootings, Blubaugh said. The goal is to work quickly to help people, she said, but also to spend the money in a judicious, strategic way.

"We don't have a clear sightline of the entire landscape that we're dealing with," Blubaugh said. "Not only of how much money do we have to work with, but also, what is the landscape of need? And we need both of those things to be able to make those decisions."

Firsthand experience of daily Kansas City violence

Jason used his lone remaining sick day to stay home with Bridget and Gabriella. An overnight automation technician, he is the family's primary breadwinner.

"I can't take off work, you know?" he said. "It happened. It sucked. But it's time to move on."

"He's a guy's guy," Bridget interjected.

On Jason's first night back at work, the sudden sound of falling dishes startled Bridget and Gabriella, sending them into each other's arms crying.

"It's just those moments of flashbacks that are kicking our butts," Bridget said.

In a way, the shooting has brought the family closer. They've been through a lot recently. Jason survived a heart attack and cancer last year. Raising a teenager is never easy.

Bridget can appreciate that the bullet lodged in her backpack and narrowly missed her, and that Gabriella's legs were burned by sparks but she wasn't shot.

Jason is grateful for another reason: It wasn't a terrorist attack, as he initially feared. Instead, it fits into the type of gun violence he'd become accustomed to growing up in Kansas City, which recorded its deadliest year last year, although he'd never been this close to it before.

"This crap happens every single day," he said. "The only difference is we were here for it."

KFF Health News, formerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling and journalism.

Copyright 2024 KFF Health News. To see more, visit KFF Health News.

Peggy Lowe joined Harvest Public Media in 2011, returning to the Midwest after 22 years as a journalist in Denver and Southern California. Most recently she was at The Orange County Register, where she was a multimedia producer and writer. In Denver she worked for The Associated Press, The Denver Post and the late, great Rocky Mountain News. She was on the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of Columbine. Peggy was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan in 2008-09. She is from O'Neill, the Irish Capital of Nebraska, and now lives in Kansas City. Based at KCUR, Peggy is the analyst for The Harvest Network and often reports for Harvest Public Media.
Bram Sable-Smith
[Copyright 2024 NPR]