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‘I’ve learned to live with both identities:’ Survivor reflects on life, identity three years after UNC Charlotte shooting

Drew Pescaro was one of six students that was shot on April 30, 2019.
Tomorrow marks three years since the UNC Charlotte community was rocked to its core after a gunman killed two students and hurt four others.
Published: Apr. 29, 2022 at 7:23 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - April 30, 2019, is a day Drew Pescaro will forever have etched in his memory.

He was sitting in his anthropology class in the Kennedy Building at UNC Charlotte when a gunman walked into the classroom and shot Pescaro and five other students.

Students Reed Parlier and Riley Howell were killed.

Rami Alramadhan, Sean Dehart and Emily Houpt joined Pescaro as the injured.

The shooter plead guilty of murder in September 2019.

His guilty plea was part of an agreement that would give him two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, rather than the death penalty, which would have been the max penalty for his charges.

RELATED: UNC Charlotte, community to pay tribute to victims of deadly campus shooting three years ago

Pescaro says it’s been a journey since that somber day. However, from the last day of classes in his sophomore year until graduation, he says he has rediscovered himself in many ways.

“I think that’s been the biggest journey over the past three years has been my identity,” Pescaro says.

He says he wrestled with feelings of survivor’s guilt, and later developed symptoms of PTSD, anxiety and depression. He adds that during the first year he felt consumed with the trauma of that day.

“My whole identity was ‘I’m a school shooting victim, I’m a trauma survivor.’”

From the operating room to the general assembly, he rallied for change, urging lawmakers to step up so shootings like the one on his campus don’t happen again.

He started taking more time for his mental health, doing talk and trauma therapy. Now he encourages others to do the same.

“If you’re just not doing well, get help, do that because you deserve it,” Pescaro says.

In the days and months after the shooting, he says he knew he had to use his life, his survival, to support others.

“None of my life post the shooting was guaranteed.”

Over the last couple of years, he started making YouTube videos, a new hobby that offers him a sense of peace.

“Getting to keep track of it all day-after-day is just a fun hobby for me, something I’m passionate about and something that I find a lot of joy in doing,” Pescaro says.

Pescaro graduated in May of last year with an Organizational Communications degree, and married his high school sweetheart Erin in June.

He currently works for the Carolina Hurricanes.

He says he’s finding balance - as the passionate sports fan, husband, friend, content creator, and survivor - all in one, with a testimony of hope.

“In this third year, I’ve really learned to live with both, live with both identities,” Pescaro says.

“Yes I am still the same me in the sense of my passions and interests and all those things but I also do have this part of my story and depending on how I share it and talk about it, I can use it to inspire people, to influence people, to have a positive impact.”

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