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Capital Gazette intern shares 'appreciation' for being alive after mass shooting

Anthony Messenger, a summer intern with the Capital Gazette in Maryland, pays tribute to the five employees who were killed in the June mass shooting at the newspaper's office.
/ Source: TODAY

On June 28, a gunman burst into the office of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland and killed five employees: Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, Wendi Winters and Rebecca Smith. Their colleagues worked through their grief — literally — vowing to put out a "damn paper" the next day.

Earlier this week, the Capital Gazette staff was among the group of journalists named TIME's Person of the Year for 2018, collectively described as "The Guardians and the War on Truth."

As part of our Voices series, Anthony Messenger, a summer intern with the Capital Gazette, opens up on his struggles in the aftermath of the shooting and shares warm memories of the victims.

There is no guidebook to life after surviving a mass shooting. Hearing about a mass shooting on the news is scary, but that cannot prepare you for the terror of living through it. The helplessness I felt shook me to my core. It’s difficult moving forward with life when you are in constant fear that at any moment you could be trapped in the same situation. Humans aren’t meant to witness this sort of violence.

There have been times when I felt like I was going crazy. Bouts of anxiety and depression are weekly occurrences. There is also the overwhelming appreciation I have for simply being alive, the deep love I have for my family and friends. The healing process is different for each person.

I don’t know when or if I will ever fully heal. The key for me is being patient with myself and being happy with any progress I make, no matter how small. I find that the one thing that helps me is writing. It took me a good while to lay my fingers on a keyboard or pick up a pen and paper again. Writing lets me purge myself of feelings that would otherwise build up inside.

Writing is no longer just a love of mine. It is an opportunity and obligation to spread messages of hope and undying optimism.

Immediately after the shooting I decided not to finish my internship with the Capital Gazette. I tried to close myself off from everyone, thinking I could handle the pain on my own. I was utterly wrong. I thought seeing the people I worked with at the Capital would only bring back the darkness of that day. But those strong men and women that I was honored to work beside are my greatest source of light. Their relentless commitment to putting out a “damn paper” every day reminds me what the human spirit is capable of. They are a shining example of perseverance. I am fortunate enough to call them not only friends, but family.

When I’m feeling down, I try to think about the good memories I have with those who were lost. Rob’s calm, joyful nature inspired me to seek the positive in every situation. I’d bring stories to him I thought for certain were finished and with a smile on his face he’d gently send me back to work.

Wendi inspired me to live a more full life. I was enamored with her ability to churn out story after story in different parts of the county. Despite her workload, she always had time to offer me advice on a story or simply talk to me about her family.

I thought I loved sports until I met John. His knowledge of Maryland basketball outweighed my knowledge of all sports in general. Although I’m a Notre Dame fan, I can say without hesitation Terps basketball will always mean something more to me now.

Gerald’s work ethic was second to none. Every time I’d take a scan of the office, there he was with his head down, working. You could always count on Gerald to give his absolute best on every piece he touched. I hope to be as reliable and hardworking as Gerald at some point in my life.

My key card never worked during my internship and what started out as my problem quickly became Rebecca’s too. With a smile on her face, she’d always make sure I got in. She also helped customers who came into the office with any sort of issue, regardless if it was her job or not. I admire her willingness to help others and I hope to live my life in the same way moving forward.

All five of my late colleagues were special in their own way — however, they shared in treating me with kindness and respect.

The Capital Gazette staff is currently featured on one of TIME's Person of the Year covers.TIME

I cannot express to you the feeling of that day. However, I can encourage you to make the most of every moment you are given, to be kind to everyone you come in contact with and to love in the face of all obstacles and evil that may arise. I am not fully healed yet and that is OK. I am a firm believer that the journey is much sweeter than the destination. My biggest hope in writing this essay is that anyone reading it will take a moment to consider what truly matters in life.

I do not know what the future holds for me. I’m not sure if I will continue to pursue journalism as a career. After nearly dying, I don’t find myself questioning what my career will be in the future. I more often wonder what sort of life I will live. What kind of person will I be? What impact can I make in the lives of others?

If you are reading this, I challenge you to pursue what you truly love to do. Don’t let your fear of the unknown stop you from taking that chance on yourself. It may seem crazy to quit your dependable job to make pottery or become a folk DJ or do whatever you dream of, but it’s a crazier feeling to hear gunshots and think you may die without ever trying. Believe me when I say life is too short.

My colleagues and I have witnessed the ugliest of what society has to offer. However, I refuse to let it taint my view of humanity. I still believe in the inherent kindness and compassion of the human spirit. The support we still received to this day helps me remember all that is good in the world. This gives me hope for a better future, one where no one has to fear senseless acts of gun violence in their everyday lives.

I wish I didn’t have to write this essay. I wish that five of my colleagues were not ripped from their families and friends on June 28, 2018. I may not be able to change what happened on that day, but I can use the voice that I am blessed to still have to make Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, Rob Hiaasen and Wendi Winters proud.