The photographer and author, Kathy Shorr, survived an armed robbery

By Sam Gillette and Chris Harris
April 07, 2017 03:44 PM
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Credit: Kathy Shorr

The portraits of survivors in Kathy Shorr‘s new photography book, SHOT: 101 Survivors of Gun Violence in America, make one hard-hitting point: gun violence is everywhere.

“When you have a gun pointed at you, you’re completely helpless and at their mercy. That feeling is probably one of the most terrible things that a human being can feel,” Shorr tells PEOPLE.

She knows from personal experience: About a decade ago, she and her then-toddler daughter were the victims of an armed robbery.

They weren’t hurt, but the frightening encounter as well as her time as teacher in inner city schools in New York City motivated the project.

“I would always see kids coming with these memorial cards on their necks for family or friends that were lost to gun violence,” she said. “I started thinking about how they had become folk heroes that people were remembering. But there were so many people who were injured by guns that no one was speaking about.”

Shorr, a full-time photographer and teacher, spent two years on her own dime traveling the country to photograph survivors of gun violence — most of whom she shot at the same location where the crime transpired. The result of that journey is a book that highlights the faces and stories behind a startling statistic: 15,075 Americans were killed by guns in 2016 while 30,624 were injured, according to the non-profit nonpartisan research group Gun Violence Archive.

Credit: Kathy Shorr

Colonel Bill Badger, a U.S. Army veteran, was shot in the head at a public meeting for U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona in 2011. Badger managed to tackle the shooter, thereby preventing the tragedy from becoming worse. He became an activist against gun violence until he died in 2015.

“Bill is symbolically the person who can relate to everyone in this situation because he’s been on both sides of the issue,” Shorr explained. “He didn’t demonize anyone, but he said, ‘Let’s look at this. I’m just like you, but this happened to me. Where can we go from here?’ ”

Credit: Kathy Shorr

Megan Hobson was 16 years old when she and three others — including a toddler — were caught in the crossfire of a gang drive-by shooting in Miami. Hobson managed to push the child on the floor, but she was shot in the hip as the car was barraged by bullets. Now 21, the college student and activist may never have children because of her injuries

Credit: Kathy Shorr

Related Video: PEOPLE’s Call to Action to Stop Gun Violence:

Twenty years ago, in Utah, Alexis Star Caldwell was holding her two-year-old son’s hand when she was shot in the abdomen by her roommate’s boyfriend. The man had strangled her roommate on a weekend getaway and Caldwell was the only one who knew about the trip, and he wanted to silence her.

She almost died as a result of the shooting. Now Caldwell volunteers at domestic violence shelters. Her attacker is scheduled to be released from prison on Aug. 8.

Credit: Kathy Shorr

Josh Stepakoff was shot by a neo-Nazi when he was six years old while attending a Jewish day camp in Los Angeles. There were four other non-fatal victims, but later, the gunman killed a mail carrier. Feeling like he had fulfilled his purpose, the gunman eventually turned himself in to the FBI. Stepakoff, now 24, is a long-time activist and currently getting his master’s in clinical psychology.

Credit: Kathy Shorr

Thirteen-year-old Sara Cusimano was listening to music in her mother’s car just outside New Orleans when a carjacker jumped in and drove off. He later raped her in a parking lot. Afterwards, he made her kneel and count to ten before shooting her in the head execution style. Twenty-three years later, Cusimano is a doctoral student and has three children.

“I had never been back to the lot where I was found — it was always the boogie man place to me,” said Cusimano about returning to the location of her attack for the first time with Shorr. “[The photo shoot] was very comforting and healing. I really liked that Kathy was able to take things that I’m self conscious about and kind of make it beautiful.”