Content Warning: This article contains graphic reflection on the UNC Charlotte shooting.
On April 30, 2019, thousands of lives were changed forever when a gunman opened fire on a classroom in the Kennedy building on UNC Charlotte’s campus. Now, it’s been one year since the last day of classes turned into something tragic. One year since Rami Al-Ramadhan, Sean DeHart, Emily Houpt and Drew Pescaro were wounded. One year since Reed Parlier and Riley Howell lost their lives.
For some, life may have returned to nearly what it was before. But for others, not a day has gone by without April 30 crossing their mind.
“Accepting the fact that...I'm gonna think about it every day cause something always reminds me of it and I’m just trying not to let it weigh down on me,” Pescaro said. “And at first that was really hard, but I've been getting better about just kind of trying to focus on the positives and, you know, kind of just carry on from that.”
Especially as the one-year mark arrives, everything has been weighing a little heavier. Pescaro says it’s felt like a sort of countdown ever since the month of April began, though his view of time in general has changed a great deal. Thinking back to what he was doing within the days prior, Pescaro finds it hard to imagine that things were so different in such a short span of time.
“You can even see on my Instagram. I think the post right before everything happened was from like April 28 and we were at our fraternity's beach weekend. And then the next post is from like May 14, and it's me in the hospital,” Pescaro said. “Like the parallels of who I guess I was before it all happened to who I am now...you look and it's like, ‘Okay, that's Drew.’ But like, it's a totally different person mentally. And it's like fun to look back and try to think about things before, but it's also kind of hard.”
Pescaro was shot through the lower back and spent about a month in the hospital. In the first few months following his initial recovery, he was very outspoken and tried to make the most of the situation. Eager not to just be a victim and knowing that how he handled the situation could have a huge impact, he spoke out on social media about how something simply needed to change, even if he wasn’t sure exactly what that would be.
“It did a lot of damage, although I am physically okay. But, you know, all I was trying to do was just share my personal story and encourage some kind of change. And obviously some people took offense and thought I was trying to be, you know, this woke political person at 20-years-old and all that,” Pescaro said. “And I think that's what kind of drove me away...I felt like people were getting to a point of being annoyed by it. And again, just thinking I was doing it for the attention and not doing it with conviction.”
Met with both positive and negative reception, Pescaro wasn’t trying to pick sides and did what he could to choose his words carefully to just “get people to understand that that shouldn't be happening to anyone.”
A lot has changed for Pescaro and those around him, but still he is doing what he can to continue to make the most of each day and focus on the positive. Of the many things are a little different for him now, he’s tried not to wait for things and instead to make them happen and has learned to lean on others a little more.
“I've always been the type of person who wants to hear other people's problems and try to help them and almost like coach them through whatever they've got going on, and that very much got shifted for awhile,” Pescaro said. “So [I’ve been] just really learning how to lean on people when you're in need because I think people do have a hard time with that, knowing when it's time to admit that you need help. So I've kind of been a lot more open to that.”
Pescaro is grateful for the overwhelming support he’s received overall, especially from the UNC Charlotte community and hopes that everyone knows how much it’s meant. Support from his family, friends and his emotional support dog Lily, who came into his life in December 2018, has been so valuable.
Being reminded of April 30 every day, Pescaro tries to remain unafraid and make the most of his time, however differently he may see it.
“A year for me, it hasn't been January to January. It's been April to April,” Pescaro said.
Editor's Note: In order to respect their privacy, all survivors were contacted once for interviews. If they later choose to comment, the article may be updated accordingly.