Shayla Martin, shown here with her boyfriend, Jeff Berg, was one of five people killed by a gunman Friday at Cascade Mall. Martin, an employee at Macy’s, was the sister of longtime Herald employee Karen Van Horn. (Family Photo)

Shayla Martin, shown here with her boyfriend, Jeff Berg, was one of five people killed by a gunman Friday at Cascade Mall. Martin, an employee at Macy’s, was the sister of longtime Herald employee Karen Van Horn. (Family Photo)

Every national tragedy is someone’s personal grief

Karen Van Horn was already working at The Herald when I arrived as an intern in 1978.

“I grew up here. I started here when I was 19,” said Van Horn, recalling that in her early days as a typesetter the newspaper still used typewriters.

She was on the verge of tears as we talked Monday like old friends. It seemed more like family — Herald family. Anyone with longtime co-workers understands. The faces of people we work with are as familiar as our own families.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Van Horn, her voice wavering between anguish and anger. In those five words — it doesn’t make any sense — the Everett woman summed up the horror of losing her younger sister, Shayla Martin, in a gunman’s rampage Friday at the Cascade Mall.

We have learned since the Burlington shooting that four of the five people killed had ties to Snohomish County.

Along with Martin, 52, the victims include: Belinda Galde, a 64-year-old probation officer with Cascade District Court in Arlington; Galde’s mother, Beatrice Dotson, 95, a former Darrington woman who lived with her daughter in Arlington; Wilton Charles “Chuck” Eagan, 61, who worked in Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Everett; and Sarai Lara, a 16-year-old Mount Vernon High School student.

Knowing someone who endured hours of dread before her family’s worst fears were realized has brought the horror of the shootings close to home. Listening as Van Horn shared memories of her sister also deepened my sense of the suffering experienced by families all over this country.

Mass shootings seem to occur with ever-greater frequency. Friday it was Cascade Mall. Monday it was Houston, where a gunman was killed after wounding nine people. Van Horn, 58, is part of a growing community — grief-stricken survivors of the innocent victims of gun violence.

When such a nightmarish event occurs, we are first struck by its enormity. In that onslaught of breaking news, there often are few details of each precious life lost.

Van Horn now holds onto every detail of the sister she’ll never see again. Being six years older, she remembers teaching baby Shayla to climb out of her crib. When Van Horn was a teenager, their parents ran restaurants, Pizza Pete in Mount Vernon and Addie’s Pantry on Everett’s north Broadway. “We all worked there,” she said.

For the past four months, Van Horn said, her sister had found happiness with a new boyfriend. Martin, a longtime makeup artist at Macy’s, is also survived by her 25-year-old daughter, Tanya Young.

The chances of any of us being a victim of a mass shooting or terrorist attack are nearly nil. We know that we are much more likely to die driving home from work. And yet, I now know someone whose sister was killed by a mall shooter.

Seeing the first reports of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, I thought I was being silly to worry that relatives of a friend from Boston might have been hurt. We soon learned, though, that the nephew of Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Michael Downes, a Boston native and family friend, lost a leg in the bombing. Patrick Downes’ wife, Jessica Kensky, also was severely injured.

After Sept. 11, 2001, I discovered that someone I knew lost a family member at the World Trade Center. Hiroe Cartier worked in an after-school program at Everett’s Immaculate Conception-Our Lady of Perpetual Help School when my older son was a student there. Her brother-in-law, James Cartier, was an apprentice electrician in the South Tower when terrorists crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the building.

A week ago, Van Horn couldn’t have fathomed that her sister’s life would be taken by a gunman at a mall. Her grief is a reminder that every time there is news of a monumental tragedy, it is someone’s family. It is someone’s personal, terrible, unbelievable loss.

“My father always referred to her as ‘the littlest angel,’ ” Van Horn said. “To me, she will always be the littlest angel.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

How to help

A fundraising account, “Shayla Martin’s Memorial Fund,” has been set up online at tinyurl.com/ShaylaMartin.

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