Silenced voices echo through survivor's search for 'normal'

Published 11.06.2018

Nursing & Health Sciences
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An emergency management technology major who is a survivor of last year's Las Vegas shooting shared her story with fellow Pennsylvania College of Technology students and faculty Monday night in the Student & Administrative Services Center’s Presentation Room.

Emergency management, human services, nursing and emergency medical services/paramedic students were among those who listened intently and respectfully to Robyn N. Wolfe's harrowing story. Her husband, William "Bill" Wolfe Jr., was the sole Pennsylvania fatality in the horrific mass shooting that claimed 58 lives and injured more than 800 people.

The emergency management technology student fields a question from the audience.This was the first time the Shippensburg resident has spoken to a large crowd about her family's ordeal. She advised the audience she has always avoided public speaking, "but 58 people lost their voices that day, so I can do this – I have done far more difficult things in the past year."

Formerly employed in the occupational therapy field, Wolfe found Penn College's emergency management technology major via the internet and enrolled in its online option, starting this semester.

In introducing the student speaker, Roseann B. Cordelli, adjunct emergency management faculty, said, "By sharing her testimony with others, it is helping her through the process of grief. Because of the experiences she had, she wishes to help others by improving the process." Cordelli instructs BEM221 (Crisis Communication), one of the classes in which Wolfe is enrolled.

Natives of Shippensburg and high school sweethearts, the Wolfes have two young sons. The couple was in Las Vegas, celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary at a three-day country music festival. Bill Wolfe was a graduate of Shippensburg University and Penn State, an engineer, and a volunteer coach for wrestling and baseball in his community.

After her talk, Wolfe shared beautiful memories with those gathered …Robyn Wolfe shared the agonizing details of Oct. 1, 2017. "That one moment, that one bullet, and my boys’ and my life disintegrated," she said.

Students gather in the SASC Presentation Room to listen to Wolfe’s story.For the benefit of the students who will serve in a variety of service capacities in their career fields, Robyn detailed unhelpful actions, miscommunications and inappropriate comments made during the chaos and the ensuing days, as well as the intrusion of media and the loss of privacy and sense of security.

… and smiled describing her husband’s buoyant personality.She also discussed the outpouring from the Shippensburg community and U.S. and global citizens, a survivors' support network, and the resiliency of her children.

"I knew Shippensburg had my back, but there is also such a fishbowl effect," she said. "I still get pity looks when people see me. I just want to be treated like normal. That's what my boys want too – to be treated like normal."

She advised, “Be empathetic, not sympathetic. Be caring, but don’t cry over (the ones who are grieving).”

Robyn and her sons returned to Las Vegas for memorial services commemorating the first anniversary of the shooting on Oct. 1.  “Slowly, we are finding our new 'normal,'” she said. “I know Bill is proud of us.”