I met her this morning for the first time. I gazed down upon her until suddenly we were face to face. She was introduced to me as someone I would have to carry and protect in the freezing cold for the duration of the day. She was a stranger to me, as plain as the black lettering on a white placard that was used to personify her existence. She was important to this day and so too were the other faceless names written on placards that were carried by the masses as we marched. These were the names of the victims of our inertia, they were the victims of gun violence over the years–gone too soon.
As I marched down Pennsylvania Avenue I thought about her. Who was she? What was her life like? Did she ever love or was she ever loved? What were her dreams, her fears? What were her goals in life? Was she young or old, black or white? What did she feel in those final moments before her life was stolen from her? As we marched past police holding the oncoming traffic in place for us, I held her name up for all to behold for I knew she was important. I know she mattered–to me.
Her name was Diane Trent. She died on December 5, 2007 at the age of 53. Diane was one of eight victims of the Omaha mall massacre. She was an employee of Von Maur, a department store chain with a presence primarily in the Midwest. Ms. Trent was divorced and had no children. She was once described as being a sweet, middle of the road American and dedicated worker.
On that fateful afternoon in December, as holiday shoppers at the Westroads Mall were going about their business, something was about to go horribly wrong. Robert Hawkins whose suicide note alluded to the fact that he was going to kill himself, take people with him and become famous as a result–had just entered the Westroads Mall.
He carried with him pain, death and suffering in the form of a Century WASR-10 semi-automatic rifle along with two high capacity magazines stolen from his stepfather. He hid these items under his sweatshirt and then took an elevator to the third floor. When he got off the elevator Mr. Hawkins entered the Von Maur department store and proceeded to fire. Because he was using high capacity magazines he was able to kill eight people and injure four others in a matter of six minutes. After the rampage was over, Hawkins took his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. It took the police six minutes to respond but by then it was all but too late. Later after an autopsy was done traces of Valium were found in Hawkins’ bloodstream.
It turns out that Diane Trent spent her last moments behind the customer service desk calling 911 for help. In the coming weeks her niece was quoted saying that Diane could have run back to the storage area to seek refuge from the gunman, but instead put her life ahead of others and sought help. Diane Trent, that middle of the road American and dedicated worker made the ultimate sacrifice.
I am proud to have carried Diane’s name through Washington D.C. yesterday. We marched for all the victims of gun violence because we don’t want to have to write down more names on placards. We carried the names of the dead because they cannot speak for themselves; so we speak with their memory in our hearts so that all may hear.