TULALIP — Flipping through photos on her phone this week, Lahneen Fast Horse paused on one captioned “waiting for brother to get better.”
She traced a finger along her hair — pulled tight in a ponytail — describing how a bullet traveled in her son’s head almost eight years ago. After seemingly endless days in intensive care at Harborview Medical Center, she recalled through tears, he didn’t get better.
Her son Andrew Fryberg, 15, was one of five teenagers Jaylen Fryberg shot before taking his own life in the Marysville Pilchuck High School cafeteria on Oct. 24, 2014.
When she heard the news, Fast Horse said, it seemed “impossible.”
Mass shootings have been on the rise. In 2014, the Gun Violence Archive tracked 269 incidents where four or more people excluding the shooter were injured or killed. In 2021, the research organization reported nearly 700.
This week, at a ceremony marking the signing of the Safer Communities Act, President Joe Biden told a crowd the legislation was proof “meaningful progress” can be made in addressing gun violence. It was the first gun control measure to make its way through Congress since the now-expired assault weapons ban, passed in 1994.
Teri Gobin, chair of the Tulalip Tribes, sat next to her daughter Nina Gobin Scott in a white folding chair on the White House lawn while Biden spoke. They were among hundreds touched by gun violence invited to attend.
“It’s a start,” Gobin said. “It’s taken a long time to get this far.”
It’s a step toward gun control that some grieving Marysville and Tulalip families have been seeking for years. As she combed through memories on her phone on Tuesday, Fast Horse paused again on a Facebook post from 2018. A photo captures her smiling alongside three other mothers of Marysville Pilchuck shooting victims and about a dozen members of the Tulalip Tribes on the steps of the Russell Senate Office Building in the nation’s capitol.
There, ahead of the 2018 March for our Lives, they shared their stories with U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina. They pushed for laws limiting sales of semiautomatic weapons, prohibiting sales of high-capacity ammunition magazines and closing background-check loopholes. They asked for more mental health counseling and school resource officers.
“It was good,” Fast Horse said of her D.C. visit. “But if nothing really came from it — or if there was no follow through with gun control — then it’s just kind of for show, I guess.”
‘If there’s anything we can do’
The Safer Communities Act earmarks $750 million for state “red flag” laws, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders.
In Washington, police, relatives and housemates can obtain the protection orders when there’s evidence a person poses “significant danger.” The orders restrict a person’s access to guns.
“These laws have the potential to prevent some mass shootings,” University of Washington public health researcher Ali Rowhani-Rahbar told The Daily Herald in an email. “But our research has shown that, unfortunately, public awareness of them is strikingly limited.”
The Safer Communities Act also enhances background checks for those under 21, and it closes the “boyfriend loophole,” which allowed some people convicted of domestic violence to buy guns in many states. But it doesn’t expand the gun ban to those who have a domestic violence restraining order, Rowhani-Rahbar said.
The act provides another $800 million for school-based mental health services and school safety measures. But it doesn’t reinstate the 1994 assault weapons ban.
Tulalip tribal citizen Theresa Sheldon said she’s “thankful” the legislation passed Congress. She served on the tribes’ board of directors when the shooting happened.
Coming from community where a school shooting happened, Sheldon said, “if there’s anything we can do to ensure it never happens again, I fully support it.”
As the President and others recounted gun violence across the country, tears streamed down Gobin Scott’s face.
“She was having a hard time wiping the tears away,” her mother said. “There was a lot of people that went through that too.”
The crowd was full of people whose lives were forever changed by gun violence.
For many families of victims, every time another shooting makes headlines, it is a stark reminder of what happened at home.
“I pretty much gave up on newspapers,” Fast Horse said. Her TV is full of prerecorded shows and movies.
One living room wall of Fast Horse’s home near Tulalip Bay has become a tribute to her son.
A medicine wheel hugs the perimeter of a drum, painted with the words, “In loving memory.” A headline reads “United in D.C. by tragedy” on a yellowing copy of The Daily Herald. A dreamcatcher hangs beside an elementary school photo of Andrew Fryberg in a Seattle Seahawks jersey — he’s grinning and missing a few baby teeth.
“I keep on adding to it whenever I run across anything,” Fast Horse said with a smile.
Her elementary-age grandkids Syris and Robert eat dinner at the table just a few feet from the tribute to Andrew Fryberg. Syris is in the highly capable program in Marysville School District. He wants to go to the University of Washington and play football when he “grows up.” Robert loves playing basketball with his brother, and learning about the mountains, construction and life with his grandpa.
They are growing up in a world where school shooter drills are normal and adults are learning how to talk to children about gun violence.
“If school shootings are still happening,” Fast Horse said, then no, Congress hasn’t done enough.