MAYFIELD TOWNSHIP, Michigan — For Kylie Ossege, the 19-year-old college student who survived two deadly mass school shootings in Michigan, one as a senior at Oxford High School in 2021 and another 14 months later as a freshman at Michigan State University, Blaze is a font. of comfort in a world torn apart by bullets.
Ossege runs a brush across Blaze’s broad forehead and then places a kiss between her eyes.
“I feel very at home when I’m with him,” Ossege says of the 13-year-old American Quarter Horse she has owned since 2019. “He’s my best friend.”
Perhaps a better friend than time, which now gathers for Ossege like dust in a corner, a sticky bundle of haunting memories that she cannot forget or erase: fifteen minutes as she lay wounded and bleeding in the hallway of an Oxford high school. Six weeks recovering in a hospital. Fourteen months between a deadly high school shooting and another at MSU. And from the daily physical pain that he will never be able to completely escape.
Ossege was seriously injured during the Nov. 30, 2021, attack on Oxford High School, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) north of Detroit.
He heard “something like a balloon popping” and then fell to the ground, where he lay next to his classmate Hana St. Juliana, who died in the shooting. A heavy backpack full of textbooks and a laptop weighed down Ossege. She couldn’t feel her legs. Or move.
“It was the longest 15 minutes of my life,” he said.
Finally help arrived. Ossege was loaded into an ambulance and rushed to a hospital in nearby Pontiac, where she would spend the next six weeks recovering, longer than any of the six Oxford students and one staff member who were injured in the attack. Four died: St. Juliana, Justin Shilling, Madisyn Baldwin and Tate Myre, with whom Ella Ossege had partnered in a bullying prevention program at the local high school the morning of the shooting.
The shooter was an Oxford student named Ethan Crumbley, whom Ossege says he did not know and whose name he will not speak. Instead, Ossege plans to make an in-person victim impact statement during his sentencing hearing on Dec. 8.
“I am excited for my words and my story to be heard,” said Ossege, who spent two weeks writing the statement, which she estimates will take about 10 minutes to write.
Crumley, 17, could be ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison.
“That’s what everyone expects,” Ossege said, including herself.
Ossege gave a memorable speech at Oxford High’s 2022 graduation, urging his classmates and the community to “radiate and shine,” a favorite saying he has long shared with his mother, Marita, and which still appears in a sign outside Oxford Primary School. .
But returning has not been easy.
Ossege said she has “tried to be as positive as possible throughout this entire journey,” but her body is a daily reminder of the shooting.
On the day of the Oxford shooting, a bullet passed through Ossege’s collarbone and ribs and exited through her back, causing a spinal cord concussion that left her briefly paralyzed. She underwent a surgical procedure to remove a portion of her vertebral bone and relieve pressure from a spinal cord hematoma.
After intense physical and occupational therapy, Ossege can walk again, but is in constant pain.
“The only thing that makes him feel better is taking medicine and lying down or sitting up,” said the MSU sophomore who, inspired by her own caregivers, studies kinesiology on the East Lansing campus, which is so sprawling that Ossege sometimes order a Uber taking her by car the equivalent of a 10-minute walk, “because 10 minutes can be miserable for me.”
A family friend connected Ossege with an executive at Northwell Health, home to a neurosurgery team at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was thought to be able to provide relief. On July 17, doctors successfully performed a five-hour fusion procedure that stabilized Ossege’s spine using screws and rods.
Dr. Daniel Sciubba, one of the surgeons, said injuries to the elements supporting the structure of Ossege’s spine forced her to lean forward, “almost like an unstable building that starts to lean under gravity.” The result was extreme pain in her neck and upper back.
Sciubba said the surgery fixed the structural problems with Ossege’s spine. He hopes that his pain levels will decrease over time and that he will eventually return to the physical activities he enjoyed before the shooting.
“Now it’s a matter of recovery,” Sciubba said. “He has hobbies like tennis and horseback riding. We hope she does it again.”
Ossege said the surgery “has improved mood” and also relieved pain.
Meanwhile, she is dismayed that mass shootings continue to plague the United States, including the second one she experienced, when a gunman killed three students and wounded five others on the Michigan State campus in February.
Ossege and his suitemates huddled for hours in a bathroom until they were given the all-clear. An Oakland County sheriff’s deputy who befriended Ossege during the Oxford shooting drove to MSU, picked her up and took her home. They arrived at 3 am
“I’m angry and sad at this world because shootings keep happening,” Ossege said. “And that my friends and I have experienced two right now. However, I am hopeful that we can eventually create change.”
Ossege is active in the MSU chapter of March For Our Lives, a group that advocates against gun violence. She said she is encouraged by the continued support she receives from friends and family, including her father, her older brother and her mother, who left her job at a radiology center to help take care of her daughter full time.
When Ossege gets home from school, he makes the 30-minute drive north from Oxford to Mayfield Township, where Blaze is staying. When he came to visit on a recent Saturday, the muscular brown horse with a flowing black mane and a white pizza-slice-shaped spot on her forehead saw her owner and galloped quickly toward her.
“Hey!” she said, giving Blaze a carrot and then grooming him, a practice she says helps with her PTSD.
“He is just amazing. He takes care of me. He is very confident,” Ossege said. “He’s just a big puppy.”
Ossege and Blaze walked to a field where he could graze. She smiled and stared at him as he dug his thick teeth into the late autumn grass, while a black toupee slid forward from the top of his head.
“There is still light in this world,” Ossege said. “Still good in this world.”
Associated Press video journalist Robert Bumsted in New York contributed.