GUN VIOLENCE SURVIVOR AND PUBLIC SPEAKER
CLACKAMAS TOWN CENTER SHOOTING
When: December 11, 2012
Where: Clackamas, Oregon
How many died? Two
During the busy holiday shopping season, a shooter opened fire on shoppers and employees at this mall outside of Portland, killing two people and wounding a third. The shooter had stolen the semiautomatic rifle from a friend’s apartment earlier that day, where it had been left out, unlocked and loaded.
“Thank you all for being here. It means a lot to me.” Hunter speaks quietly into the microphone, his eyes scanning the hundreds of support- ers who have come to this somber event. It is silent for a long moment, until a friend in the front row yells, “Go, Hunter!” The crowd laughs with relief, and Hunter flashes a grin and continues.
“Five years ago, my mother was shot and killed in a mass shoot-ing . . .”
It happened on December 11, 2012. Hunter Yuille was thirteen years old and just home from school. He opened the fridge and groaned. No milk.
“That’s a big thing for me,” he says. “I love milk. I can drink milk all day long.” He was planning to make a quesadilla, but it wouldn’t be as good without a glass of milk. So, he called his mom, Cindy.
“Hey, we’re outta milk,” he complained.
“I’m on my way home now,” she told him. “I just have to stop at the mall; then I’ll pick up some milk.”
Hunter remembers the last words he said to her: “See you when you get home. I love you.”
Hunter ate his quesadilla (without milk, which was a bummer), then went to gymnastics practice. Afterward, his dad picked him up, which was weird because his dad never picked him up from gymnastics. It was always his mom. But Cindy wasn’t home yet. Nobody was worried—it was December, and the malls were packed with holiday shoppers. They figured Cindy’s errands took longer than expected. Hunter tried calling her but got no answer.
Hunter and his dad ate dinner. Then, because of the season, they turned on A Christmas Story. Near the end of the movie, the door- bell rang. Hunter was sure it was his mom—maybe she’d lost her house keys.
But it wasn’t Cindy. It was a police officer. And a therapist. Hunter’s dad told him to stay in the house while he stepped outside. “I knew something was wrong. I could feel it,” said Hunter.
His dad came back in with tears in his eyes. “It was the first time I’d ever seen my dad cry,” Hunter remembers. His dad told him that his mom wouldn’t be coming home. She had been shot. There had been a mass shooting at Clackamas Town Center—a young man opened fire in the food court. Two people had been shot and killed—Hunter’s mom was one of them.
When Hunter heard the news, he froze. He didn’t believe what he was hearing. “No, she’s not dead,” he said to himself. “She’s on her way home. She’s caught in traffic. This is not happening.” He didn’t cry. He didn’t feel anything at all.
Hunter went a couple months like that, expecting his mom to come home, expecting life to go back to normal. Hunter’s life didn’t go back to normal, however. In fact, it got worse. “I’m a nineteen- year-old addict in recovery trying to figure out how I’m supposed to grow up,” he says now.
Cindy Yuille, who Hunter calls Mom, was his adoptive dad’s wife—so, stepmom might be a more accurate term, technically. But for Hunter, Cindy was just Mom—the most stable, loving person in his life. She was a hospice nurse and the best parent he’d ever had. “Cindy was an amazing mom. She took me in, always treated me like her own. She cooked dinner, helped me clean my room, helped me do my homework. She was one hell of a person.”
After Cindy was shot and killed, Hunter’s life spun out of control. Less than a year later, fourteen-year-old Hunter was chain-smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and smoking pot regularly. “It seemed like what every other teenager was doing. But mine progressed a lot quicker than other kids.”
Before long, Hunter found his way to more dangerous drugs and got addicted. He tried to get himself clean, but without Cindy’s support, it was all too much, and he found himself homeless, living on the streets. The summer before after his junior year, Hunter dropped out of school. He thought about killing himself.
Today, Hunter is doing a lot better. “Drugs and alcohol didn’t get me anywhere. They got me homeless on the streets. I had to make a change.” He got himself into a treatment program and into “sober housing.” He’s been clean and sober for nine months and plans go back and finish high school soon. “My mom put that in my head: ‘You need to go to school.’”
Hunter has also started speaking out, telling his story to help educate and inspire. A few months after getting clean, he went to the five-year remembrance of the Clackamas Town Center shooting. He wasn’t planning to speak, but when he heard others speaking, he thought, “Why not? I’ve got something to say too.” His words moved the crowd—the applause was loud and long. “It felt good. It felt
really good. I was really nervous, but I made it through.”
In July 2018, he won a Giffords Courage Fellowship and flew to Washington, DC, where he joined twenty-eight other young people from across the country. They gathered to discuss the gun violence crisis and brainstorm solutions. Hunter was honored. “I never thought I would have this kind of opportunity. I think that we actually have a chance to change something.” Considering what he’s lost to gun violence, he is surprisingly open-minded about possible solutions. “Before the shooting, I loved guns. Lots of people I know have guns, and I think that’s fine. We shouldn’t take guns away from law-abiding citizens. We should focus on taking guns away from convicted fel- ons. There’s a huge black market for guns,” he says. “And we should focus more on gun control. Background checks. Making sure gun owners are not mentally ill. Making sure people who have the guns lock them up.”
Hunter is working on forgiving his mom’s killer. “I can’t hate him anymore. You have to learn to forgive—you can’t hold on to stuff like that.”
Hunter’s advice for young activists: “Let your voice be heard.”