On a quiet spring morning in 2007, stay-at-home mom Lori Haas was shopping with her minister in Richmond, Virginia, when her phone began ringing — and would not stop.
It was an EMT who said Haas’ 19-year-old daughter, Emily, a sophomore at Virginia Tech, had been shot twice in the head during a shooting rampage on the bucolic campus.
When her daughter got on the phone, “She said, ‘Hi mommy. I’ve been shot,’ ” Haas, 59, tells PEOPLE.
Trembling, she listened as the EMT got back on the line. They told her that two bullets had grazed Emily’s skull but that she was going to be okay and was headed to the hospital.
Returning home, Haas jumped into her SUV with her husband and “drove like a bat out of hell trying to get down the road, which put me on the journey I am on now.”
In the decade since, that path has led Haas to working tirelessly to prevent mass shootings like the one on April 16, 2007, which left 32 dead and 17 injured on Virginia Tech’s campus, including Haas’ daughter. Other students were injured when they jumped out of windows to escape the shooting.
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Haas says that in the days and weeks after the rampage, she “saw more pain than can be imagined or described.”
“It was morally imperative that I do something about it,” she says.
After volunteering for organizations such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and The Virginia Center for Public Safety, Haas in 2009 became director of the Virginia Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
Five years later, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointed her to the state’s Commission on Crime.
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In her decade of work, Haas, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and other groups have helped block bills that allow guns in airports, child care centers and churches and on school campuses.
“We can’t ignore a public health problem of this magnitude and not work to do something about it,” she says.
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10 Years After the Massacre
Haas’ daughter Emily returned to Virginia Tech a week after the shooting in 2007. After graduating with a degree in French, she went on to become a high school French teacher.
Today she is married with a little girl of her own.
“I’m really proud of my mom for her work in preventing gun violence,” Emily tells PEOPLE. “She and her colleagues face a lot of opposition at times, but they never give up in fighting for safer gun laws.”
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