Freeman shooting survivor, family share story of healing

Ten months ago, one student was killed and three others injured when a gunman opened fire in a third floor hallway. Now, one survivor is sharing her story, as her family thanks the staff at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital.

Gracie Jensen was a freshman last fall, gathering with a group of her friends before class. In an instant, life changed forever.

“I heard a pop. By the time I turned around, I had been shot and I was laying on the floor screaming for help,” Gracie recalled.

Gracie and her two friends were hit by gunfire; all would survive. Fellow student Sam Strahan was also shot and died in the hallway.

Gracie’s parents still choke up when they recall that horrific day. Gracie’s mom Jen Jensen was teaching in the elementary school next door when she heard a knock on her classroom door. Her superintendent shared the news Jen never expected to hear.

“He said, ‘Jen, we’ve had a shooting,” she said. It takes Jen a few seconds, choking back tears, to share what he said next. “[He said] Gracie’s been shot.”

Gracie doesn’t remember the pain of those initial moments, but she does remember the fear. She worried about being incapacitated on the ground while the gunman was still in the hallway.

“The hardest part of me is knowing that she was hit – and, when she was hit, it dropped her,” Jen said. “She wasn’t able to move at all… so as all the kids were running away, to know she was feeling alone and scared was hard.”

Jen called her husband Eric, who she met at Freeman High School when they were teenagers. It was the hardest call she’s ever had to make; Eric was about to take the longest drive of his life.

“She said, ‘We’re in the ambulance, can you meet us at Sacred Heart?'” Eric remembered. “I hung a right on 24th. I remember driving past the cemetery. It was hard.”

Jen also called close friend Missy Wells, who is a nurse at Sacred Heart and used to work in the pediatric intensive care unit, where Gracie and the other injured girls would soon be heading.

“When we drove by Freeman, it was shocking,” Wells remembered. “We prayed. We prayed for Gracie. We prayed for the staff. We just prayed.”

Eric would beat his family to the hospital, frantically running inside. Instantly, he knew his daughter was in incredible hands.

“I remember walking through the door and what I recall is just lines of people, waiting for our kids,” Eric said.

Wells saw her co-workers, doing exactly what they train to do.

“I saw my people, the people I’d gone to war with,” Wells recalled. “And, they were fighting for Gracie.”

The bullet entered Gracie’s side, tore through her body, entered her spinal column and broke bones on the other side. It lodged under her skin. Doctors wanted to get it out before it could do any more damage.

Eric remembers the moment he first saw his little girl.

“They wheeled her in she just looks at me, bright-eyed, big smile,” Eric said. “And, she said ‘Dad, I’m going to have so much homework.’ That’s typical Gracie – putting the rest of us at ease.”

Gracie was most severely injured of the three girls who survived that shooting. She spent a week at Sacred Heart, then two weeks at St. Luke’s. Outside the hospital, “Freeman Strong” became a rallying cry in the community. Inside, the Jensens got support they never expected.

The hospital cleared out space so that Gracie’s friends and family could come and visit. One nurse even painted her fingernails and washed her hair so that she could feel a little bit more like herself.

“These people in the peds ICU – and, children’s hospital – they’re amazing,” Eric said.

The Jensens are grateful for the level of care they could receive right in their own community.

“It’s cliche and we used to joke ‘We’re just saving lives’,” Wells said. “But, it’s true. They really do save lives. Every day.”

Every day since that September day has been life after. Gracie has pushed through every obstacle in her path to get back into school and back on the court, playing the sports she loves.

Her story proves that while our worst days may break us down and they might even test our faith. But, those stories will not define us.

While some see the Freeman Strong signs as a reminder of the community’s worst day, they remind Gracie of what makes her home and community special.

“For me, Freeman Strong talks about how our community has come together to support all of us,” Gracie said. “For some people, it just represents the shooting and they don’t like talking about it, but I do.”

This story was produced in partnership with Inland Film Co.