Virginia mother of three Lori Haas is a mom on a mission. Her daughter Emily was shot twice in the head, but survived the mass shooting at Virginia Tech. Haas will not rest until hearts—and laws—have changed.
The Phone Call
It was April 16, 2007. Emily Haas was in French class in Norris Hall. A gunman had chained the doors of the building and had begun killing students and professors. Gunman Seung-Hui Cho burst into Emily’s class armed with two semi-automatic weapons.
When police arrived in her classroom, they found Cho dead on the floor, along with 11 innocent people he had killed. They began to rescue the wounded, including Emily.
When Emily was taken to a triage center, she called her mom.
“I was out shopping with my minister,” Haas recalled. “My phone was ringing off the hook. It was Emily and she said, ‘I’ve been shot.’”
Emily told her mom someone had opened fire in her classroom.
“My heart sank. I drove to Blacksburg going 90 miles per hour listening to the radio and just sobbing. The emergency vehicles were passing us. It was the most horrifying moment of my life driving to get her and knowing she was injured,” Hass said.
In Haas’ panic, she knew she was lucky to still hear her daughter’s voice.
“There were 32 other families like me, but they were going to pick up their dead children.”
Two bullets had grazed Emily’s skull. While bleeding in the classroom, she stayed calm and kept police dispatchers on the line. Her emergency call was credited with guiding first responders to the correct location in the building. She risked being noticed by the gunman in order to get help to the right place. Her calm heroics while under fire have earned her praise from many people, including her mom.
“Emily was so brave that day. It’s hard to imagine what all the survivors must re-live occasionally,” said Haas.
Emily was able to return to Virginia Tech and earn her degree. She is now a teacher and is married. While she does not often speak publicly about her experience in one of the worst mass shootings in history, her mom is front and center in the gun policy debate.
Haas is the Virginia organizer for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. She has also worked with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the Virginia Center for Public Safety, Protest Easy Guns, and Mayors Against Illegal guns. You can find her sharing her family’s story on YouTube, and she has made countless media and conference appearances. She has no intention of stopping.
“The shootings at Aurora and Newtown just brought home to me that we need to do more work and better work,” Haas asserts.
Haas has many emotions that drive her. One of them is anger.
“My anger is directed at elected leaders. I find it appalling that we have allowed the gun lobby to lead the debate on public safety. I look to law enforcement to guide the discussion on public safety. We’d like law enforcement officials to be the lead spokesmen on the debate, not a gun lobby that is out to make money,” Haas said.
Haas believes the Sandy Hook tragedy will be a turning point due to the tender age of the victims.
“I can’t fathom six and seven year old children being killed. I just can’t fathom it. I am sickened and horrified at the level of carnage in this country. Thirty-four Americans are shot by guns every day. That’s a Virginia Tech every day.”
Haas has plans to meet with lawmakers to make the case for strengthened gun laws. Haas’ voice carries a lot of weight considering how close to losing her daughter she came. She hopes to leave an impression on lawmakers and others by sharing her emotions, and some persuasive statistics.
“We’ve had mass tragedy after mass tragedy. Total gun deaths since the Virginia Tech tragedy are over 187,000. That’s sickening in just six years. But, I think there is a segment of the population that is listening. Three out of four NRA members wants background checks for all gun sales. 82% of gun owners want better and more responsible gun laws. We hold the moral authority and our elected leaders need to listen to us.”