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Oxford, One Year Later: The student activists

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Mercedes Mejia
/
Michigan Radio
Aubrey Greenfield and Zoe Touray.

Zoe Touray and Aubrey Greenfield are both survivors of the Oxford shooting. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Zoe, now an Oxford alumna, and Aubrey, a current senior, both became involved in gun reform activism.

A youth member of March For Our Lives, Zoe has lobbied and spoken at the Michigan Capitol and in Washington D.C., advocating for secure firearm storage and expanded access to mental health resources. Most recently, she organized a trip for Oxford students to visit Uvalde survivors. Aubrey has also gotten involved with the organization in the wake of the shooting at Oxford High.

Though not friends before the shooting, the two have built and maintained a bond through their activism and shared experience of trauma. You can find a transcript of their conversation below.

Zoe and Aubrey's conversation

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Mercedes Mejia
/
Michigan Radio
Aubrey Greenfield (left) and Zoe Touray recording their conversation in the Michigan Radio studios.

Zoe Touray: So can you describe the first time we met?

Aubrey Greenfield: Oh, wow. Okay, so I actually remember last. So I remember I was working homecoming my junior year, and I remember I complimented your dress because you were wearing like a really sparkly... I think it was gold, like a really sparkly gold dress. And I think I yeah, I think I complimented you. I was like, that is so pretty. You're like, Oh, my God, stop. I love you. Stop it. And then you walked away, and I thought that was so, like, funny. I don't know why, but that's like, a core memory. I just keep in a little compartment in my brain because I remember. Yeah, because I volunteer for stuff like that all the time. And I like kind of knew who you were and I've seen you around. I just, like, never really had a reason to like, you know what I mean?

Zoe: We never like, chatted-chatted.

Aubrey: Yeah. We weren't in the same social circle or anything. It's kind of like activism and like trauma bonding in the sense that brought us together. But yeah, for some reason, that memory of complimenting your dress stuck with me.

Zoe: So what has it been like for you to be back at the school? Because, for example, the security like the security I didn't realize was like that much more in-depth. So how's that been for you?

Aubrey: It's been interesting and an adjustment for sure. So we have Evlolv now, which isn't a metal detector, it's a weapons detecting device. So it's supposed to be able to, like, pick out the shape of a weapon and then it'll flash red. And then you have to step to the side and you have to walk through again without your stuff while they search your bag. And we still have clear backpacks and we also have to swipe in with our IDs or they we walk up and they scan them when we get there. They really want to make sure that students feel like they can go to class without worries. And as much as they're trying, it doesn't subside the fact that some days I feel like I'm still walking over graves because they repainted the walls and they changed the carpeting and they got us therapy dogs and all this. But we're still walking over the same spot where students died.... I know. Like I still walk past where I saw blood on the floor the day of the 30th. Like, I walk by and I can't help but glance because I can still picture it.

Zoe: You’re making me cry. I want to give you a hug.

Aubrey: I know, but it's, I know. It's like I'm laughing about it because I'm, you know, uncomfortable talking about it, but it's, that's just my reaction to things, is I try and like and like, ha ha funny. But it's…

Zoe: But it's like a serious thing.

Aubrey: Yeah, it's a serious thing. Like, I'll go down the hall that I got evacuated from and I still can picture everything. I can picture seeing my teacher with SWAT officers. I can picture the blood trickling on the floor. I can still, like, imagine when I glanced to my right and saw officers and tape and it's, and I can still imagine when I walked out of the school and that's when it hit. It was the second I walked out of the building. And I remember walking out and hearing helicopters swirl. And I remember SWAT and I was like, ”this is real.” And people with guns, like holding guns. Yeah. And I was like, this is like it really hit. But what about you? Like how, because you graduated already, but you come back for different events like I know you're helping with Oxford Legacy going to Uvalde and you came back the other day to help me with March For Our Lives stuff. So how's it feel walking back after you graduated?

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Mercedes Mejia
/
Michigan Radio
Ahead of the Nov. 8, 2022, election, Zoe Touray left fliers promoting stopping gun violence on doors at the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus.

Zoe: I've been talking, honestly, a lot about this the past couple days because people, and it's like really funny, because people will, like, laugh at me about it and they'll call me like a “super senior.” So I get some people who are like, “You're a super senior, haha.” And I’m like, leave me alone because I feel like maybe it's my trauma bond to the school. I talk to a lot of teachers about this in their offices whenever I'm there too. But there's such a like trauma bond to being at Oxford that whenever I'm there, it's kind of like, it's so weird to say, but I'm like the happiest. That I'm like, I'm more happy than I am, like, at home. So like, I'll be at Oxford and whenever I get a text that I need to come up there that I want to come do something or I just want to come visit an old class, I get so excited and I, like, can't sleep the night before. I'm like, "What am I going to wear? Who am I going to talk to, what old friends that are like in younger grades like, who am I going to see?" So it definitely does bring back memories sometimes when you’re walking in the hallways whenever I am there, but I, it's not like the same for me, as where I remember, oh, I jumped out of this window or oh, this person came and banged on my door, unless I go down that hallway. But I think I do it, like, not necessarily on purpose, but I kind of avoid that hallway and I just realize, I've never, I don't really walk down that a lot. So it, I don't know. It brings me joy to be in the school, but I think, I don't do it on purpose, but I do skip that hallway.

Aubrey: I understand that. I kind of relate to that because I think the first couple weeks after everything, like I had to get evac[uate]d down the main hall and I was down that 400, in the center was where my class was. So it was very hard to avoid. But I remember trying to avoid the corner where the actual shooter came out of the bathroom. And I remember trying to find any way I could to avoid that hall. And then after a couple of weeks, I think it was into April, I avoided that hall. I realized I'm going to be here for another year and I feel like I'm going to have to confront this eventually. And I may as well do it now when I'm surrounded by friends than on my own, when I feel like my thoughts could get to me. So in April, I started going down that hall to get to some of my classes, and after time it got a little bit easier and easier, and having friends with me definitely helped because we would just talk as we were walking through, kind of trying to take focus off of it. And now I'm a senior. It's November and I can go down that hall, worry free, which is really nice. Yeah, but it's a little funky still. Like some, I think, as we get closer to the 30th, people in general, including me, are just a little more on edge.

Zoe: But how have you been coping over the past year?

Aubrey: I think, initially, I was coping kind of unhealthily. I was self isolating a lot because I thought I could handle it on my own. And I already had a therapist lined up for other stuff I was going through, like talking to her and going through, like, she wasn't like specifically for trauma, but she was still able to help me cope. And then I started doing endurance running more. So I'm a sprinter for our track team, but I remember the first time I tried, I think it was cycling, the first time I tried cycling after the shooting, it was the day after and I was like, okay, working out brings me joy, it brings me happiness. Let me try and do it. And I pedaled for like three or four minutes, started crying. Because working out already makes you very vulnerable because you're working so hard towards something. But then I couldn't get the thoughts out of my head of what had just happened. And like that morning I found out, it was the morning after shooting that Justin passed away. Yeah. And I remember that was adding on a lot of, like, sadness and stress. So, start crying. And then it took like a couple of weeks. And then I found solace in working out and in fitness and in routine and setting up a routine for myself definitely helped. So. What about you? Like how did, what did you find helpful? Like post-shooting?

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Zoe: I usually tell everybody this, but it's so weird – I'm like, so goofy – but I have, like, this thing called, like, a bad b-i-t-c-h playlist. It's like, I like, add to it every day, and I still listen to it every day. But I started it in the first march a little bit before, like pretty much when everything first happened. So I had the playlist already and I added to it and changed the name and changed the picture. So I looked like a bad b-i-t-c-h and I was like, This is going to be like, I'm just going to turn this on when I'm in a really bad funk or bad mood and just kind of play it out. And so I'll just like, have a little dance party or listen to it and just dance around my room or whatever and listen to it. I'm in the shower, like whatever I'm doing. And then my other big thing is, I owe so much credit to all of my friend groups and like all of my friends, because we were just all there for each other.

Aubrey: Yeah. Like, how did your little journey with March For Our Lives start?

Zoe: It's actually like really funny because I owe all of it to, like, my parents because March For Our Lives, I think it was Michigan reached out to me through the DM from March For Our Lives and they were like, “Hey, we would love if you could come speak at this event on the Capitol steps in Lansing.” And I remember at first glance I ignored their message for like ever. I had no idea what March For Our Lives was. And so I remember telling my mom about it and she was like, “This will be good for you. You know, to get out of the funk that you've been in and get out and kind of branch out more.” And then we had a separate talk with my dad too. So it was all three of us. And he told me, because they're very big on like prophetic dreams or like manifestation. And so he told me that he had a dream, that he saw me doing this kind of stuff, like doing interviews and being an advocate for something. And he's like, I had this dream like a year ago, but I didn't want to tell you because I didn’t know what it was about, but this is what you should do. And so I finally said, OK, they're kind of bugging me about it. And I went to speak at that event and it's just been going since then.

Aubrey: That's awesome.

Zoe: I love that.

Aubrey: I'm so happy for you. Like, I love that for you.

Zoe: We’re doing such good things.

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April Van Buren
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Michigan Radio
Aubrey Greenfield (right) walks in a March for Our Lives and No Future Without Today protest in June of 2022.

Aubrey: I know. I'm like, it's been so cool being in this space, I guess. Like, it sounds so cliché because I feel like I hear that all the time. It's so cool, like being in the space, but it's true. It feels like being an activist fills that little hole that has been there since the 30th.

Zoe: It does. Because it feels like you're helping to prevent the next one or do something about the next one.

Aubrey: Like even if there's one kid that doesn't have to go through what you and I went through on the 30th and what so many others went through, like, that makes it worth it. Like, out of all the fliers we handed out today, if one of those people joins March For Our Lives and starts being an advocate or starts going to marches, then that makes it all worth it.

Zoe: Yeah, to be all worthwhile. So, because I know a lot of people like to ask this, but how does your family feel about your activism?

Aubrey: My parents are justifiably anxious. They're very proud of me, but they're concerned about safety because I saw, like, for example, Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia, who followed David Hogg and was harassing him and filming him. And they don't want something like that.

Zoe: I didn’t even know some of that.

Aubrey: Yeah, they didn't, they don't want that to happen to me or anybody that I'm involved with. So they're anxious because they're scared about the state of the world right now. I'm a young girl. You're a young girl. And going out in public and advocating could be really dangerous, especially for women and women of color. And it's just yeah, they're very nervous. They do support everything I do. They supported me going to [Oakland University] and [University of Michigan] today. But on a larger scale, they get more anxious, like when I get invited to D.C. or I get invited to do bigger events because that puts me on a much larger platform that they're nervous something's gonna, bad is going to come of it.

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Zoe: Do you know anyone that wants to kind of forget or move past? Because I know I've definitely had friends like that.

Aubrey: Yeah, that's actually how one of my siblings is very much. We coped very differently. So, he's on the side of I kind of want to, not forget it happened, but I want to move past it. I want to not think about it because it makes him anxious and upset. I, on the other hand, am very much like people shouldn't stop talking about it. I mean, there's appropriate time to talk about it and appropriate times not to talk about it. Like I don't need it brought up every five seconds. But I very much, like, in the movement and talking about it and he's very much, like, acknowledging what happened, but he wants to move past it, which I completely understand because people cope with trauma differently. And if that's how someone needs to cope with trauma, and by all means, please go do it. Because as long as it's healthy coping, then it's coping and it's okay. So how about you? Like, who do you reach out to when you're feeling like PTSD signs coming on or when you're a little anxious?

Zoe: Honestly, kind of same with, like, friends. And I have a few kids that are still at the high school that I've had since freshman year that I'll still reach out to work together with or talk to in my like moment of need. But my main person is — she's gonna get such a big head about this — it's my mom. I love my mama. So yeah, I always reach out to my mama whenever I need her.

Aubrey: Have you guys always been pretty close?

Zoe: Yeah. She's like my main go to for anything. She's honestly, I can say, even though I wouldn't tell my other best friends, she's like my main best friend. We talk about anything and everything.

Aubrey: That's so sweet. That, like, warms my little heart. Like, I love that.

Zoe: Yeah. She's going to get a big head about this.

Aubrey: Do you feel like there's pre-shooting Zoe and post-shooting Zoe? Because I know during, like, when I was thinking about that, like, I can see a significant difference between how I was before and how I was after. So I was wondering if that kind of was what you went through.

Zoe: Yes, I feel like post-shooting Zoe is very, she's like so much more confident, but at the same time, she's like so much more scared. And I mean in the sense of the things that make me jumpy. So, like, loud noises, even when I'm at work because I work in a kitchen, basically. And so a lot of things make me more jumpy, but I'm so much more confident than I used to be. And I don't know if it's like getting into public speaking and things like that, 'cause I still get a little nervous every now and then. But it gives me like, I just have so much more confidence about the way I look and just the way I see myself. Just everything. Like, my self-image has really boosted. But also just because I know, like, that proves that life is so short that I need to just put myself out there and be as confident as possible and be like… this sounds so corny.

Aubrey: Yeah. No, I completely understand. Like, you reevaluated what mattered to you and, yeah, I like that. For me pre-, I think post-shooting Aubrey is definitely very different than pre-shooting Aubrey. Like I think now I have that understanding that… where it's like you don't know when your time's up. So I don't want to go out of this world like having so many unknowns. Like, what if I had gone to this outing or what if I had taken this step? What if I had taken this class? What if I did ask that boy out? So I think in that sense, I'm a lot more confident, where it's me taking more risks. Healthy risks. After everything, I reevaluated what mattered, and I realized that I didn't have a lot of time for myself. And that led to, like after the shooting, me being more anxious because I didn't know how to prioritize myself. I didn't know what self-care really was. To me, self-care was just like showering. And now it's like, I need to set that time aside for myself and for the people I love because you don't know when that time is going to be up and you're going to regret not being with the people you care about and doing things with them.

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April Van Buren
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Michigan Radio
Oxford community members walk in a March for Our Lives event in June 2022.

Zoe: So, what, I know we talk about a little bit with like increased mental health resources, but what do you want to see happen in like kind of the gun violence prevention space?

Aubrey: Okay. So for me, one of the big reasons I got into March For Our Lives was because Michigan does not have a safe storage law. They don't require people to safely store guns in their home. And that applies directly to our Oxford case, where the parents are accused of not locking their guns up, thus giving the perpetrator free access to them where he could go and harm people. So that's something I really want to see happen in the Michigan government is for both sides, Republican and Democrat, to compromise and to pass this bill that would protect more people. Because federally we have had stuff happen. Like you went to the, I believe it was the bipartisan…

Zoe: Oh, Safer Communities Act.

Aubrey: Yes, Safer Communities Act. And that was amazing. But Michigan as a state hasn't done much. So I would love to see that change. And then what about you? What's something that you wish would happen in the gun reform space?

Zoe: I feel like same, honestly, making sure there's more bipartisan stuff, not just like both federally. Like, kind of nationally by the same time, like statewide. So I know that the big thing for me is just like increased mental health resources, which you talked about earlier. So it's making sure that students have that information before the bad thing happens and then, well, after as well. But like mainly before. Yeah. And then just making sure we get these tougher laws passed. Like I know we kept working on the safe storage law and things like that and then we worked on the boyfriend loophole and that's something that was in the bipartisan Safer Communities Act. So just to keep going with things like that, because it was a great start, but there's just so much more we can do.

Aubrey: Yeah, I completely agree. Seeing people get involved has been so fulfilling and so amazing and seeing you go to D.C. and you speak at different events has been so cool cause I'm like, I know her and she's doing such great things and like...

Zoe: Same on your end. You keep doing amazing things, too.

Aubrey: Oh, stop it. I just hope to see in the future more communication and more bipartisan legislation that's going to protect students and prevent another Oxford from happening. I love you so much.

Zoe: Thank you for having this conversation with me. And I'm glad that we've gotten closer since this has happened.

Aubrey: I know. For real. Like, it's been so nice. Like, I just wish you and I would have been friends before.

Zoe: I know. Trauma bonded.

Aubrey: Trauma bonded.

These conversations have been edited and condensed for clarity.

CORRECTION:
A previous version of this post incorrectly said that Aubrey Greenfield was involved with the group No Future Without Today, a student-led gun control initiative organized by survivors of the Oxford shooting. She is actually involved with the group March For Our Lives. We regret the error. It has been corrected above.

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Mercedes Mejia is a producer and the Director of Stateside.
Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 9 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.