Nevada LegislatureSocial Justice

Change Makers: Karl Catarata on Life After Gun Violence

Today, Karl Catarata is an accomplished UNLV student and community activist. In 2014, he was a high school student who rushed to save his family from what would become one of Nevada’s most notorious shooting incidents. Catarata recently opened up to us about surviving that mass shooting, escaping another mass shooting three years later, and how his personal experience with gun violence has affected him.

“[O]nce we heard the third round of gunfire, it was a whirlwind.”
– Karl Catarata, on experiencing the Las Vegas Metro Police Shooting in 2014

We spoke with Karl Catarata two days before a gunman opened fire on a baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing at least 26 people and injuring another 20. As the nation’s gun violence epidemic rages on, we will continue to cover this critical issue, and continue the conversation on what we can actually do about it.

On June 8, 2014, Karl Catarata was shopping with his mother and his younger brother at the neighborhood Walmart. His mother was shopping for makeup, while his brother was about to walk to cashier to pay for his items.

As his brother was walking towards the checkout aisles, Catarata began to realize something was off. “At first, it sounded like a normal argument at the store about the prices, or about the line,” Catarata told us. “But once we heard the third round of gunfire, it was a whirlwind.”

Catarata then recalled the shooters announcing their action inside the store. “I remember the [male shooter] saying, ‘Revolution’. Then, they started shooting their guns.”

“In 2014, I was the first person to press the door to trigger the fire alarm. […] I was the first person to warn other people, ‘Please escape!'”
– Karl Catarata

Once he realized the popping noise they were hearing was actually gunfire, Catarata quickly sprang into action. “Me being 15 or 16 at the time, I had to push their body weight towards the door. I looked to the left, and lost my shoe. I looked to the right, and saw the fear on other people’s faces.”

Catarata ultimately played an important role in getting other civilians out of harm’s way. “In 2014, I was the first person to press the door to trigger the fire alarm. I was the first person to yell at my parents. I was the first person to warn other people, ‘Please escape!'”

They didn’t know this at the time, but Catarata and his family were inside that Walmart as Jerad and Amanda Miller began their second round of shooting. They had already assassinated Las Vegas Metro Police Officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo at the Cici’s Pizza across the street. They would soon kill a third person, Joseph Wilcox, inside that Walmart before police ended their armed standoff.

“It’s the feeling that someone’s attacking our community. Someone’s attacking our home.”
– Karl Catarata, on the Route 91 Shooting

Just over three years later, Karl Catarata was nearly caught in another mass shooting. On the night of October 1, 2017, he was leaving Mandalay Bay, the casino resort where a gunman would open fire on the nearby Route 91 Harvest country music festival. “I was on the 15 [Freeway], on the way home.” Catarata’s boyfriend then called him, and that’s when he began to realize what he had just missed.

According to Catarata, “I pulled over, saw the CNN alert, and thought, ‘My goodness, is this really happening?'” He continued, “I was sitting back in my car, realizing I was able to escape it. We didn’t even know yet 58 people would die.”

Catarata then began to experience many of the same emotions he felt on June 8, 2014. “It’s the feeling that someone’s attacking our community. Someone’s attacking our home.” Catarata then began to look at the bigger picture. “The entire world is looking at us. What did I do to help? What did I do to help other people? What did I do to help myself, take care of myself?”

“[W]e need to have common sense gun reform. We need to stop this gun violence.”
– Karl Catarata

Catarata is no stranger to guns, as his father and others in his family are gun owners. However, they never looked for ways to avoid background checks, like Jerad Miller apparently did. And they never tried to convert their guns into fully automatic killing machines, like Stephen Paddock apparently did.  

Catarata is planning to go to law school and eventually advocate for civil rights in the courtroom. He also wants to advocate for gun violence prevention, so that no one else has to go through what he and other gun violence survivors have witnessed. “Being a survivor, experiencing this, we need to have common sense gun reform. We need to stop this gun violence.”

Catarata then urged Congress and state legislatures to go beyond “thoughts and prayers” when they respond to mass shootings. “Our elected leaders have the power and the potential. They can use their thoughts, use their prayers, then use their legislation to do something.”

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