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The Girls Who Saw The Whole Thing


The day was sunny and birds were chirping happily the moment Hannah was struck in the eye with an arrow at Graymoore Girls’ Camp. A thirteen-year-old named Brenda Sharp shot it, and of course it was an accident because nobody at summer camp shoots somebody in the eye on purpose. That’s the thing every girl’s parents warns her about before they drop her off at camp. “Be careful at archery,” they say. “Don’t poke anyone’s eye out.” And all the girls roll their eyes when their parents say this, even Hannah, the girl who in only four days was to have that rolling eye poked right out of her head.

Hannah Fowls lay on the grass holding her head while every camp counselor within screaming distance came running, and she would have continued to hear the birds chirping except most of the girls around her were screaming and the birds had fled the area as if a bomb had exploded right there on the sports field. She also couldn’t see the sun flickering through the leaves that waved gently in the late morning breeze because her good eye was squeezed shut and the other one was a bloody mess. She wasn’t making any noise because she was in shock. The arrow had penetrated her eyeball but at an angle, and Brenda’s shot lacked sufficient force to drive it in all the way, like in a horror movie when people get their eyes shot out by arrows. The arrow had fallen out when Hannah hit the ground, and her hand covered a bloody, gouged eye socket. That part did actually look like something from a horror movie. All this was what Meghan McDonald told everyone in her cabin much later that night when no one could talk about anything but The Thing Brenda Did To Hannah.

Brenda had just stood there across the field, her lips quivering and her hands shaking when she realized what she had done. She hadn’t intended to actually shoot the arrow. She had turned to her right because the sun was in her eyes and she couldn’t see the target. She wanted to see down the shaft without the bright light in her eyes. She had meant to turn back and then let the arrow fly but her hands just slipped. That was what she kept saying over and over to everyone around her, but her explanation was a useless blubbering sound that no one could understand, and the camp archery instructor, Miss Bagwell, was too busy to listen. She hovered over Hannah and barked instructions for an ambulance, a call to the main office for Miss Albe (the camp director), a First Aid Kit, for someone to call Hannah’s parents, and a demand for the girls to get back. The birds were gone and no one noticed the sunny sky through the trees.

Several news stations heard what happened within ten minutes because exactly sixteen girls tweeted it on their cells and nine posted photos on Facebook even though only one of them actually had a shot of Hannah’s face, and it was a fuzzy, thumb-sized white circle covered by her hands and framed by campers’ legs. One messaged friends in China whom she had met on vacation the previous summer via WeChat, but she didn’t have a picture to share, at least not until she took one of the pictures from Facebook off another girl’s page. From that moment on, all the junior high girls in a small village near Shufu in central China had one more piece of evidence of America’s out-of-control violence right there on their cell phones. The shooting of Hannah’s eye became everyone’s cause for concern as soon as they looked at all the pictures and statements from The Girls Who Saw The Whole Thing.

The headlines grew. The shooting was the lead story on the local Fox News affiliate that night. It was written up in the local newspaper the next morning. Two online parenting websites did columns about the lax safety standards in summer camp programs. A sports blog discussed the necessity of better certification of archery instructors. A parenting/health blogger speculated on the possibility of Hannah ever regaining her sight even though the woman never saw or interviewed Hannah. A psychology blogger wrote of the guilt that cripples the perpetrators of accidental shootings, although all of his examples were gun accidents, and dozens of gun control groups and Second Amendment groups sounded off and clashed words on blogs across the state by nightfall and across the nation by morning. There was talk of charges being filed, but those were soon dropped after the investigation from the local sheriff’s office and the FBI. Someone had called the local game warden as well because the news had circulated that since a bow and arrow were involved that it must have been a hunting accident. The camp’s legal counsel quickly wrote up a statement for the camp director, Miss Albe, to read to the press promising that all safety measures would be taken to ensure the safety of the girls of Graymoore Girls’ Camp and that their prayers were with the Fowls family in this difficult time. The archery program was discontinued until such time as an investigation could be conducted to determine the cause of the accident, and the bows and arrows were put away on the top shelf of the closet of the Recreation Cabin next to dusty boxes of croquet mallets and macramé kits.

Within two hours Brenda was surrounded by her parents, her grandfather, two sheriff’s deputies, camp officials, reporters, camp management, and Brenda’s cabin “big sister.”

“Do you think they’ll take her to jail?” asked a blonde girl.

“No, of course not. She didn’t kill her,” said a girl with braces and a hump nose. “She’s going to be on all the news stations though. I wish I could be on the news. I wish somebody would interview me.”

“I heard she was going to be arrested for attempted murder,” said another girl with red hair, except hers was not natural red.

“She wasn’t trying to kill her,” said the blonde girl.

“I heard somebody say that she heard Brenda couldn’t stand Hannah and that she wished she was dead,” said the not-natural redhead. “It’s on everybody’s pages.”

The other two girls gasped. So of course, it was true. The red-haired girl sent out an Instagram.

No one was quite sure what to say to the two men who were at the camp entrance the next morning with weapons slung over their shoulders insisting that they were there to provide protection to campers and employees. They were standing on public land because they were outside the gates, so even when Miss Albe, the camp director, told them she was going to call the police there was nothing they could do because the two men—who as it turned out, were the uncle and older brother of two of the campers—told her that they were exercising their Second Amendment right to bear arms, and that they intended to patrol the entrance in the event that anyone from the outside got the idea to enter with weapons and instigate any more “attacks.” Miss Albe tried her best to explain that it was an accidental bow and arrow misfire, but the men said their presence would dissuade any “escalation in violence” and that they just wanted to “make sure the girls were safe.” Miss Albe did call the police who determined that the two men were indeed within their constitutional rights to stand on public land with loaded automatic weapons slung over their shoulders and peer into every car that came through the front gate of the camp. Miss Albe went to her office, closed her door and took a drink of wine from a thermos she kept in her desk drawer.

“I heard they spotted a man with a gun,” said the not-natural redhead. “And now they’ve got armed guards at the front gate in case he tries to come into the camp.”

The girl with the braces and hump nose put her hand over her mouth in disbelief. “I’m calling my daddy to come and get me.”

“There’ll be more cameras, you just wait.”

Hannah’s surgery was not as successful as the doctors had hoped. Her eyesight in her right eye was completely gone, and she wore a patch that covered most of the side of her head. She cried when someone held a mirror to her face. The doctor was blunt but spoke softly. “I’m sorry we couldn’t save your eye.”

“I’m ugly now,” Hannah blubbered, but the tears came only from her left eye. Her parents were fielding calls from a representative of Fox News who said they wanted to interview her on television. Hannah asked her parents for a new sweater from Rue21 to wear on the show. They agreed.

A crew of news reporters followed six sets of parents to Graymoore that evening to retrieve their daughters. Two more fathers with guns were now patrolling the entrance, and one of the couples coming for their daughter got out of their van with their guns drawn when the first two men with weapons approached. The situation looked like it was going to get ugly for several minutes after the father from the van, who was packing a Glock, called the uncle of one of the campers a “jackass Communist” followed by a few threatening shouts back and forth, and the news crew recorded the whole thing. The Showdown at Graymoore Girls’ Camp was their lead story on the evening news except they bleeped out the part about the man with the automatic weapon being called a “jackass Communist” by the man with the Glock. Their follow-up story was about the man with the Glock being arrested because he didn’t have the proper permit for his gun, so the news crew got an interview with his wife who had been carrying a Ruger Single Six but she had a permit. The film clip ended with a close-up of the woman’s hand on the grip of her gun and her daughter safely in the background after a week at Graymoore Girls’ Camp. By the next morning a group of MAGs, Moms Against Guns, had formed a protest about ten yards away from the Second Amendment Rights Supporters who had grown to five people and seven automatic weapons. All afternoon the two groups held firearms and signs and waved and shouted their slogans to any passersby who drove down McGuffin Road to see what all the media ruckus was about.

By the last day of the week, only nineteen girls remained at the camp, as most of the parents had taken their children home. The not-natural redheaded girl remained. She could not return home because her parents were in the middle of divorce proceedings and that was the reason they had sent her to camp in the first place. The father of the girl with the braces and the hump nose said he couldn’t take off work, so the girl was waiting for her grandmother to drive down from Tennessee to retrieve her the following day.

It was only nine o’clock in the morning on Friday, and already it was hot enough to make sweat run down the sides of their faces. Both of the girls wore makeup and had sprayed their hair carefully into place because a news crew was coming to interview some of the staff about conditions in the camp, and the girls had determined that they would be interviewed should an opportunity arise. The girl with the not-natural red hair kept waving bugs away from her face as they waited on the front porch steps of the administration building where the crew was due in exactly five minutes.

“Do you think they’ll interview both of us at the same time?” asked the girl with the braces.

“Probably not,” said the not-natural redhead. “My uncle is a newscaster in Birmingham, and they film those things in like ten second shots with only one person at a time. Only one of us will get on TV.” She flipped a hand through her bangs and sighed. “I’ve done these like a hundred times.”

The girl with the braces looked confused and angry all of a sudden. “But I thought we would both get to be on TV. That’s not fair.”

The not-naturally redheaded girl turned to her and said in a hushed voice, “I heard Hannah was going to be on ‘Sean Hannity’.”

The news van turned the corner before the girl with braces could respond. They both jumped up from their perch on the steps. The not-natural redhead started touching her hair and clothes in anticipation, but the girl with braces clenched her fists open and shut and eyed the Recreation Cabin across the street. Before the crew could get out of their van, she took off. “I’ll be right back!” Not-natural redhead paid no attention but waited for the crew to notice her waiting there on the steps in her red shorts, striped halter top and lip gloss.

“We’re here to see Miss Albe,” said a man in a suit. A shorter man in a ball cap and shorts followed with a camera on his shoulder.

The director was already heading out the front door. “I’m Sophie Albe.” Soon the conversation between the news crew and Miss Albe cut the not-natural redhead out of the picture completely. She fumed silently to the left out of the camera’s view as the man in the suit held a microphone in Miss Albe’s face and began asking her questions to which she gave careful answers about the rigors of camp activities, safety policies, and standards of training for camp counselors. She was beginning her spiel about how the founder of the camp, Elsie Graymoore, hosted the first summer program in 1931 for fourteen daughters of the town’s best families, when the girl with braces and a hump nose came trotting down the path from the Recreation Cabin holding a bow up in front of her face and an arrow in launch position. “I can show you how it happened,” she called out to the crew. “I saw it.”

Not-natural redhead shrieked in protest. “You did not! You weren’t even there.”

The girl with braces kept coming forward, pulling the arrow back. “I took the archery class last summer. I know how she did it. Look, I can show you.” She stopped in the middle of the road and pulled the bow string taut.

Miss Albe put up a hand and stepped in front of the camera. “Put that down immediately!” The camera man was filming the camp director up close and even got the shot when the sweat dripped from her nose. He was thinking how this would certainly be the lead story on the evening edition when the girl with the braces let her thin fingers release the arrow and it sailed by faster than his eyes could track. In that instant his consternation rose and a question flickered through his mind. When someone is shooting something, do you focus on the person with the weapon or the person who is about to be shot? Because in terms of journalistic interest there is merit in focusing on each. This was what he was thinking when it happened, but in the time it took for all of this to roll through his mind, the only recording he got was of Miss Albe’s face when she witnessed the skinny girl with the braces and the hump nose shoot an arrow right through the right side of the neck of the not-natural redheaded girl, and then the backwards drop of the girl’s body as she hit the ground, her hair falling in a strangely neat circle around her head. The man with the camera was thinking how perfect it looked, the dyed bright red hair against the green grass, her open eyes staring up in shock at the same sun filtered through the trees just like Hannah must have seen only days before.

“Did you get it? Did you get me on TV?” The girl with the braces clutched the bow and waited for the man to turn the camera on her.