EMPORIA, Kan. — Mass shootings evoke strong emotions for lots of people but especially for survivors. News of shootings in movie theaters and schools bring back powerful memories for one Emporia woman.
Bev Hilbish was injured, and her father killed in an Emporia church shooting back in 1988. Despite her encounter with gun violence, you might be surprised to hear her opinion about the gun debate.
“It was an ordinary day,” Hilbish says, thinking about that morning March 6th 1988, “dad made pancakes for breakfast.”
She was 18 years old then, and went to church with her dad and two younger sisters. They were sitting in a pew toward the back when suddenly a side door slammed open. The man standing there ended up being identified as Cheun-Phon Ji, a former Emporia State foreign exchange student.
“Suddenly he just burst out shooting no warning,” says Hilbish, “we just dove down under the pews and we were crawling as fast as we could to get away.”
When the gunman stopped to reload, a church member took action.
“Took after him and threw the hymnal which hit him in the head and made him stumble,” says Hilbish.
Church members held the gunman until police came.
“Once the shooting stopped, I remember looking down seeing I was shot and then looking at my dad and seeing the blood and knowing he wasn’t going to make it,” she says.
Four people were hurt and her father, Tom DeWeese, was dead.
Now when other mass shootings make the news it all comes back to her. Even so, it didn’t make her anti-gun.
“I don’t think it’s the guns that kill,” Hilbish says, “it’s the people behind em, the evil, the hatred, and the anger of the people.”
In fact, Hilbish is an active advocate for the responsible use of guns, and a certified 4-H shooting sports instructor. So is her husband and her daughter Megan. Megan has won awards in several national competitions: 4-H, NRA and Junior Olympics. She even made the Olympic trials and dreams of making the Olympic team. Megan also teaches kids about respecting guns.
“Our number one rule is safety first,” says Megan, “so in the future when they’re around larger guns they know how to handle them to prevent accidents.”
Despite a personal brush with gun violence, Bev HIlbish does not support talk of bans or regulation. She says sick people like the man who took her father’s life need help.
“I think in our society we have eliminated a lot of the mental health services and eliminated services that could stop those things from happening,” she says.
The gunman in the Emporia church shooting is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of Bev’s father and attempted murder of six other people.