Chunk Lump

Delivering the Best News to you!

It was an ordinary Wednesday morning when I woke up on 13 March, 1996.

It was snowing and I shivered as I pulled on my red school uniform sweater. We’d moved to Scotland three years earlier – my mum, my stepdad and my 11-year-old brother Joe. I loved my school. I was a happy-go-lucky kid and very settled.

Dunblane was a safe, close-knit community. Neighbours were friendly and Joe and I had the freedom to play in the park and walk to school by ourselves.

After we’d waved Mum goodbye at home, we walked the short distance to school and
I remember seeing snowdrops poking through the snow.

Joe went off to his class, which was in a prefab structure on the site, and I went to mine, Primary Four, which was a classroom in the main building. The school had a large gym in the middle and a big field at the back.

It was coming up to 9.30am and our class was walking through a corridor to the music room, called the “GP room”, to practise singing for a big assembly later that week. But something wasn’t right.

I was standing next to my friend and we saw little holes appearing on the glass in front of us and chunks of plaster coming out of the walls behind. It never occurred to me we could be in danger.

We were like a little pair of old ladies, hands on our hips, complaining it must be the builders upstairs making a mess. I remember seeing a shadowy figure in the gym doorway, across the concrete playground.

But only later would I realise this was Thomas Hamilton, dressed in camouflage gear, opening fire on innocent children.

People since claim Hamilton planned to come to the big assembly, with enough ammunition for everyone in the entire school, but he got the wrong day.

As he’d run kids’ clubs locally, some families – like tennis star Andy Murray’s, who was in my class – knew Hamilton quite well. But I didn’t know him.

I don’t really recall screaming or shouting, but I remember lots of people in the corridor suddenly. It seemed dark and our teacher Mrs McTurk told us to crawl on our hands and knees and just get into the next classroom.

Once there, she told us to sit on the floor behind the teacher’s desk and she stayed with us in the room, but I can’t remember whether she was hiding, too.

I didn’t understand what was happening. I don’t know how long we were behind that desk – or whether we were silent.

I think it was a policeman who eventually told us it was safe to come out and go back to the GP room where we waited, bewildered, to be collected by a parent.

It felt like we were waiting a long time and my best friend was crying, worried about her little sister. Somehow, I had this sense that my brother Joe was OK.

Fearing the worst

When I was finally reunited with Mum and Joe, she squeezed us so hard. She had only heard of the shooting because my aunt had seen it on the TV.

She and my stepdad rushed to the school panicking, arguing with a policeman, because for hours they weren’t told who had died. It must have been pure torture.

Mum didn’t let go of us for the rest of the day. Back home, in the kitchen, we just held each other in silence. A neighbour came round and joined in the hug too.

Later, when the news came on, Mum started writing down the names of the victims, but when she heard my best friend’s little sister’s name she froze. The next few days were a blur of chaos – our quiet existence was shattered.

We couldn’t go to friends’ houses or we’d be accosted by reporters. We couldn’t play in our garden without big zoom lenses trying to get photographs. We couldn’t leave the house even to see the flowers without being mobbed.

Mrs McTurk sent all her pupils a card telling us how brave we had been that day. I kept the card for years.

The people of Dunblane went into mourning, funerals were held and therapy services were set up, so any child could talk to someone if they needed to.

The gym site was eventually demolished and turned into a memorial garden. But life was different for me, because just two weeks after the attack, my family relocated to Nottinghamshire. I missed my best friend terribly.

At my new school all the teachers and pupils saw me as “the Dunblane girl” and wanted to know all about it.

Downward spiral

My personality changed overnight. I had nightmares and woke up screaming, “Everyone’s dead!” I’d get scared someone was looking at me through a window.

Mum took me to a therapy session, but it wasn’t a success. There were about 15 student therapists waiting to hear my story.

Mum, concerned, said, “I appreciate everyone’s here to learn, but has anybody got the skills to help? My daughter’s not a case study.” Nobody raised their hand.

On 13 March, 1996, in one of the worst gun crimes in UK history, Thomas Hamilton walked into a school and killed 16 children and a teacher and wounded 15 others.

He used two 9mm Browning pistols and two Smith & Wesson Magnum revolvers, all legally held, and after the four-minute attack shot himself.

The former Scout leader went on the rampage after accusations of inappropriate behaviour with young boys.

Since then, laws have been passed that effectively make private ownership of handguns illegal in Britain.

For many years I suffered poor mental health. I was angry, lost and couldn’t seem to find my place in the world.

When I was 14, I couldn’t stand being in my head any longer and on Joe’s 17th birthday I overdosed, blacking out.

In the ambulance Mum was told to say goodbye, but miraculously, after a few days in hospital, I was discharged. I’ll never forget seeing that pain in her eyes, that I could do that to myself.

After I left school I ended up working in a nursery. It was as if I needed to nurture and protect young children and I was constantly hyper aware of any potential risks to their safety.

I worried over terrorist threats, which to anyone else would have seemed irrational, and I knew if anything had happened I would gladly have become a human shield.

I carried guilt for a long time – not just for surviving, but for leaving my best friend. For 25 years I didn’t speak to the press because I felt those who had lost someone or been injured in the attack had more right to grieve than me.

I’ve since told my childhood best friend these concerns and she was lovely and told me that my memories of that day are just as valid as anyone’s.

Despite being in the same class, Andy Murray and I weren’t particularly close, but I have always admired how he never let the massacre define him and I tried to be more like that too.

My brother Joe seemed less outwardly damaged than me. Only years later, when he came home one day with an enormous tattoo of a big Celtic cross with 17 smaller crosses – honouring those that lost their lives – did I realise he’d wrestled his own demons.

Joe designed me a tattoo too, with “Never forget” and a love heart with a thistle and snowdrop.

The Snowdrop Campaign was set up in the aftermath of the attack to fight for a ban of private gun ownership.

Over the years, news of gun shootings in American schools triggered real panic and when
the ex-prisoner Raoul Moat went on a two-day shooting spree in July 2010, I was utterly, illogically terrified.

Between 2010 and 2017, I fell into a very bad relationship and in 2016 I made another attempt on my life.

But I remembered the pain in Mum’s eyes the first time her little girl tried to end her life. I couldn’t do that to her again. It was a turning point.

Better days to come

I ended my toxic marriage and I began a different job, not working with kids. I was determined to find a therapy that would really work for me.

After trying several, I was recommended a therapist, Carl Jackson, who is an expert in integral eye movement therapy. This involves patients holding on to problematic memories while following complex movement patterns with their eyes.

It sounds weird, but I noticed an immediate change – I felt lighter, calmer and quieter in my mind.

More positives followed when in 2018, I reconnected with an old flame, Ryan. We were together briefly in our twenties. This time, there was no dating, we were committed straight away and I’m lucky to have wonderful stepchildren who live with us.

For many years, on the anniversary of the attack, I went to church and lit 17 candles. I will remember those whose lives were taken this year too, but I also want to think of the day in a happier way.

The date is Ryan’s birthday and it was also the due date for our daughter, who arrived early on 25 February.

I couldn’t believe it when they told me. The medics worried it would be triggering for me, but I felt the opposite, like it was a ray of positivity.

I am happy to share my experiences now, but only because I want other people to know that if you’re feeling despair, don’t give up.

I can’t ever forget what happened. It’s part of who I am, but I am healed and moving on.’