MAYFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — 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 stands as a source of comfort in a world otherwise shattered by bullets.
Ossege runs a brush along Blaze’s broad forehead, then gives him a kiss between the 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.”
A better friend than time, perhaps, which now gathers for Ossege like dust in a corner, a clingy bundle of haunting memories that she can neither forget nor sweep away: Fifteen minutes as she lay shot and bleeding in an Oxford High School hallway. Six weeks recovering in a hospital. Fourteen months between a deadly high school shooting and another at MSU. And daily physical pain she can never fully escape.
Ossege was severely wounded during the Nov. 30, 2021, attack on Oxford High School, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) north of Detroit.
She heard “something like a balloon popping,” then fell to the ground, where she laid next to classmate Hana St. Juliana, who died in the shooting. A heavy backpack filled with textbooks and a laptop weighed Ossege down. She was unable to feel her legs. Or move.
“It was the longest 15 minutes of my life,” she said.
Eventually, 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 a staff member who were injured in the attack. Four died: St. Juliana, Justin Shilling, Madisyn Baldwin and Tate Myre, with whom Ossege had partnered at a bullying prevention program at the local middle school on the morning of the shooting.
The shooter was an Oxford student named Ethan Crumbley, whom Ossege says she didn’t know and whose name she will not utter. Instead, Ossege plans to deliver an in-person victim impact statement during his sentencing hearing on Dec. 8.
“I’m excited to have my words heard and my story heard,” said Ossege, who spent two weeks writing the statement that she estimates will take about 10 minutes to deliver.
Crumbley, 17, could be ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison.
“That is what everyone is hoping for,” Ossege said, herself included.
Ossege delivered a memorable address at Oxford High’s commencement in 2022, urging her classmates and the community to “radiate and shine,” a favorite saying she long has shared with her mother, Marita, and one that still appears on a sign outside Oxford Elementary School.
But coming back hasn’t been easy.
Ossege said she has “tried to remain as positive as I can through this whole journey,” but her body provides a daily reminder of the shooting.
On the day of the Oxford shooting, a bullet traveled through Ossege’s clavicle and ribs and exited her back, causing a concussion of the spinal cord 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.
Following intense physical and occupational therapy, Ossege is able to walk again, but suffers constant pain.
“The only thing that makes it feel better is taking medications and laying down or sitting down,” said the MSU sophomore who, inspired by her own caregivers, is studying kinesiology on the East Lansing campus that’s so sprawling Ossege sometimes orders an Uber to drive her 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 that it was thought could provide her with relief. On July 17, doctors performed a successful, 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 tilt forward, “almost like an unstable building that begins leaning under gravity.” The result was extreme pain in her neck and upper back.
Sciubba said the surgery fixed the structural issues with Ossege’s spine. He expects her pain levels to diminish over time and for her to eventually return to physical activities she enjoyed before the shooting.
“Now, it’s a matter of recovery,” Sciubba said. “She has hobbies like tennis and horseback riding. We expect her to get back to those.”
Ossege said the surgery “has been a mood booster” that’s also provided pain relief.
Meanwhile, she is dismayed that mass shootings continue to plague the U.S., including the second one she lived through, when a gunman killed three students and wounded five others on Michigan State’s campus in February.
Ossege and her suitemates huddled for hours in a bathroom until the all-clear was given. 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 a.m.
“I’m angry and I’m sad at this world that shootings keep happening,” Ossege said. “And that me and my friends have experienced two at this point. However, I’m hopeful that we can create change eventually.”
Ossege is active with the MSU chapter of March For Our Lives, a group advocating against gun violence. She said she is heartened by continued support she receives from friends and family, including her father, older brother and mother, who left her job at a radiology center to help care for her daughter on a full-time basis.
When Ossege is home from school, she makes the 30-minute drive north from Oxford to Mayfield Township, where Blaze is boarded. When she arrived for a visit on a recent Saturday, the muscular brown horse with a flowing black mane and a pizza-slice-shaped white patch on his forehead spotted his owner and galloped quickly toward her.
“Hey!” she said, giving Blaze a carrot and then later grooming him, a practice she said helps with her post-traumatic stress disorder.
“He’s just awesome. He takes care of me. He’s so safe,” Ossege said. “He’s just a big puppy dog.”
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, a black toupee sliding forward off the top of his head.
“There’s still light in this world,” Ossege said. “Still good in this world.”
Associated Press Video Journalist Robert Bumsted in New York contributed.