MAYFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – For Kylie Ossege, the 19-year-old college student who survived two deadly mass shootings at a Michigan school – 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 source of comfort in a world otherwise destroyed by bullets.
Ossege runs a brush across Blaze’s broad forehead and then gives him a kiss between the eyes.
“I feel very comfortable when I’m with him,” Ossege says of the 13-year-old American Quarter Horse, which she has owned since 2019. “He is my best friend.”
Perhaps a better friend than time, which now gathers like dust in a corner for Ossege, a clingy bundle of haunting memories that she can neither forget nor sweep away: Fifteen minutes when she lay shot and bleeding in a hallway at Oxford High School . Six weeks of recovery in a hospital. Fourteen months separate a fatal shooting at the high school and another at MSU. And she can never fully escape the daily physical pain.
Ossege was seriously injured in the Nov. 30, 2021 attack at Oxford High School, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) north of Detroit.
She heard “something like a balloon popping” and then fell to the ground, where she lay next to her classmate Hana St. Juliana, who died in the shooting. A heavy backpack full of textbooks and a laptop weighed Ossege down. She couldn’t feel her legs. Or move.
“It was the longest 15 minutes of my life,” she said.
Finally help came. Ossege was loaded into an ambulance and taken 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 Ossege had attended 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 said she did not know and whose name she declined to disclose. Instead, Ossege plans to provide a personal victim impact statement during his sentencing hearing on Dec. 8.
“I am happy that my words and my story are being heard,” said Ossege, who spent two weeks writing the statement, which she estimates will take about 10 minutes to deliver.
Crumbley, 17, could be ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison.
“This is what everyone is hoping for,” Ossege said, including herself.
Ossege gave a memorable speech at Oxford High School’s 2022 commencement, urging her classmates and community to “shine and shine,” a favorite saying she has long shared with her mother, Marita, and always has still says on a sign in front of Oxford Elementary School.
But returning wasn’t easy.
Ossege said she “tried to stay as positive as possible throughout the journey,” but her body reminded her daily of the shooting.
On the day of the Oxford shooting, a bullet passed through Ossege’s collarbone and ribs and exited her back, causing a concussion to the spinal cord that left her briefly paralyzed. She underwent surgery to remove part of her vertebral bone and relieve pressure from a hematoma in her spinal cord.
After intensive physical and occupational therapy, Ossege can walk again, but suffers from constant pain.
“The only thing that makes it better is taking medication and lying down or sitting,” said the MSU sophomore, who, inspired by her own counselors, is studying kinesiology at the sprawling East Lansing campus is that Ossege sometimes has an Uber 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 of a neurosurgical team at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was believed to be able to provide her with relief. On July 17, doctors successfully performed a five-hour fusion, stabilizing 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 it to lean forward, “almost like an unstable building that begins to lean under gravity.” The result was extreme pain in my neck and upper back.
Sciubba said the surgery fixed the structural problems in Ossege’s spine. He expects that over time her pain will subside and she will eventually return to physical activities that she enjoyed before the shooting.
“Now it’s about recovery,” Sciubba said. “She has hobbies like tennis and horse riding. We expect her to come back to it.”
Ossege said the surgery was “a mood booster” and also resulted in pain relief.
Meanwhile, she is dismayed that the U.S. continues to be plagued by mass shootings, including the second she witnessed when a gunman killed three students and injured five others on the Michigan State University campus in February.
Ossege and her roommates huddled in a bathroom for hours until the all-clear was given. An Oakland County sheriff’s deputy who had befriended Ossege during the Oxford shooting drove to MSU, picked her up and took her home. They arrived at 3am
“I am angry and sad that shootings continue to occur in this world,” Ossege said. “And that me and my friends have experienced two at this point. However, I am confident that we can bring about change at some point.”
Ossege is active in the MSU chapter of March For Our Lives, a group that advocates against gun violence. She said she is heartened by the continued support she receives from friends and family, including her father, older brother and her mother, who gave up her job at a radiology center to care for her daughter full-time.
When Ossege gets home from school, she drives 30 minutes north from Oxford to Mayfield Township, where Blaze comes aboard. When she came to visit on a Saturday, the muscular brown horse with a flowing black mane and a white spot shaped like a pizza slice on his forehead spotted his owner and galloped quickly toward her.
“Hey!” she said, giving Blaze a carrot and later grooming him, a practice she says helps with her post-traumatic stress disorder.
“He’s just great. He takes care of me. He’s so safe,” Ossege said. “He’s just a big puppy.”
Ossege and Blaze went to a field where he could graze. She smiled and stared at him as he sank his thick teeth into the late autumn grass and a black toupee slid forward from his head.
“There is still light in this world,” Ossege said. “Still good in this world.”