Benefield: Rock the Ride is about action, accountability
Liz Russell says that recalling that horrific day in 2018, when three of her colleagues and friends were gunned down during a workplace party, is not a burden.
It’s become, in some ways, a tool. Or perhaps, a mission.
“It’s worth it to me, to go through the emotional response,” she said.
Today, she’s a senior survivor fellow for Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit gun control advocacy group backed financially by Michael Bloomberg.
The Napa resident is also federal legislative lead for the California chapter of Moms Demand Action.
And she’s co-organizer of Rock the Ride, the 6-year-old cycling event co-founded by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and geared to both raise funds and amplify calls- to-action for those sick of being rocked by gun violence.
“It’s going to take all of us standing up and doing something about the issue,” she said. “Just because you think it can’t happen to you doesn’t mean it can’t.”
Saturday’s 25-mile bike ride (there’s a 10-mile ride option as well as a 3-mile walk) ends a mile from where Russell’s life changed forever five years ago — at the highly regarded Pathway Home, a residential treatment center for combat-stressed veterans that was housed at Yountville’s Veterans Home of California.
“The gunman walked in with an assault style rifle, a shotgun over his back, protection over his ears,” she said. “We all thought we were going to die that day.”
The killer, an Army veteran and former client, allowed some people at the party, including Russell, to leave the room.
He then shot and killed three women: Christine Loeber, the program’s executive director; and clinicians Jennifer Golick and Jennifer Gonzales, before killing himself.
“I was sitting in that room when he walked in and I’m thinking, ‘My children are going to grow up without a mother,’” Russell said. “No one should have to think that at their place of employment, or grocery store, or place of worship, or driving down the highway.”
The Pathway Home closed months later. The mass shooting there remains the deadliest incident of gun violence in the North Bay in at least a decade.
It was the year a killer armed with AR-15-style assault rifle and at least three handguns, opened fire inside a Pittsburgh synagogue killing 11 congregants.
It was the year 10 were murdered at Santa Fe High School in Texas.
Map: Mass shootings in the U.S. by year
Russell joined countless other Americans that year as a “survivor” of gun violence.
Russell uses that term now not so much to wield power but to ask from experience: When are we going to do something substantive to curb the American epidemic of gun violence?
And the when are we going to stop watching the list of those who have survived gun violence grow by the day?
“It’s not all mass shootings, though that does tend to garner the most press attention,” she said. “But every day there is gun violence, domestic gun violence, unintentional gun violence with children where firearms at not properly stored.”
The number of people in the United States who have lost their lives to gun violence in 2023 was 19,923 as of Monday, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonpartisan, nonprofit tracker of gun-related incidents in the nation.
Suicides made up 11,220 of those deaths.
“So suicide prevention is gun violence prevention,” Russell said.
There are so many ways to be active on the issue. Rock the Ride aims to put a number of those options on the literal table Saturday at the park post-ride to let people find their place, find their voice.
“Not everyone is a survivor. And not every survivor is capable and ready to become an advocate,” Russell said.
“Regardless of the amount of time you have, there is a place for something,” she said.