Jane Vance and Lucinda Roy

On the morning of April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho—a student at Virginia Tech—shot and killed 32 students and teachers, wounding 17 others. Until the 2016 massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, it was the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history.

Artist Jane Vance and Professor Lucinda Roy were teaching at Virginia Tech that semester, although neither were present on the morning of the shooting.

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They returned to campus a week after the shooting when classes resumed for students who wanted to complete the term.

At StoryCorps, Jane Vance describes the inspiring way her class came together after the tragedy.


One of Jane’s former students, Kristen Wickham, was a freshman at the time of the shooting. Her friend Caitlin Hammaren was the only other student at Virginia Tech from Kristen’s home town of Westtown, NY, and was one of the 32 victims.

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At StoryCorps, Kristen sat down with her husband Andrew Baginski to remember Caitlin.

Originally aired April 14, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo: Virginia Tech students sing “Amazing Grace” at the conclusion of a candle light vigil on the drill field Tuesday, April 17, 2007, in Blacksburg, Va.  (AP Photo/Roanoke Times, Josh Meltzer)
Center photo: Lucina Roy and Jane Vance on the Virginia Tech campus. (StoryCorps/Erica Yoon)
Bottom photo: Kristen Wickham and her husband, Andrew Baginski in New York City. (StoryCorps)

Fatuma Abdullahi, Annie Johnson, and Maryan Osman

Even though they’re only teenagers, Fatuma Abdullahi and her sister, Maryan Osman, have undertaken a long, complicated journey to get to where they are today.

When they were very young, the girls lost their parents during the civil war in Somalia, the country in which they were born. They were taken in by their grandmother until she was resettled in Australia. Fatuma and Maryan were to follow her there, but in the interim, Australia closed its borders to Somali refugees. The were shuffled between family members in Kenya until they were eventually left on their own. 

Then, in 2014, Fatuma and Maryan were resettled in the United States through Catholic Community Services of Utah. There they found a stable, loving home with a young couple, Annie and Randall Johnson, near Salt Lake City. They also live with their little brother, Roscoe, and their dog, Maddox.

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Fatuma and Maryan recently sat down with Annie to talk about what it’s been like — for all of them — to become a family.

Originally aired April 7, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Bottom photo: Randall Johnson, Maryan Osman, Fatuma Abdullahi, Roscoe Johnson, and Annie Johnson at their home in Murray, UT. 

Toni Henson and Camaran Henson

As a kid, Camaran Henson would stay up late listening to his grandfather, Leonard Simmons, tell stories about his experiences as police officer in Newark, New Jersey. 

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Leonard worked undercover for “The Bandit Squad” — a group of detectives who investigated armed robberies in the 1970s — and Camaran was convinced that his grandfather was a real-life superhero. Camaran’s mom, Toni, knows the feeling because she grew up hearing these tales as well.

Leonard died in 2013, but Toni and Camaran came to StoryCorps to pass his stories on — since long conversations are something of a family tradition.

Originally aired March 10, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo: Camaran Henson with his grandfather, Leonard Simmons, ca. 1994. Courtesy of Toni Henson.

Chris López and Gabe López

Chris López always knew there was something different about her youngest child, Gabe. Assigned female at birth, Gabe felt like he was a boy.

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Gabe was always more comfortable in clothing traditionally worn by little boys — cargo pants and superhero shirts — but switched back and forth between these outfits and those often worn by little girls. Just after his seventh birthday, he convinced his parents to let him cut off his long hair and get a mohawk — a haircut he had been wanting for years. Around this time period, Gabe started dressing only as a boy and answering exclusively to “he”.

At first, Chris was concerned that Gabe, being so young, might change his mind. She was scared of how people would treat him as he transitioned. But after seeing how Gabe responded to the changes in his hair and clothing, she felt confident that he had made the right decision.

Gabe, who’s nine years old now, has been attending the same school since kindergarten. In the fall of 2016, when he started third grade, he began having others refer to him by his preferred gender pronouns —”he” and “him” — for the first time.

In 2015, the López family attended a camp for transgender, gender creative, and gender non-conforming youth in Tucson, Arizona.

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Gabe and his mother came to the StoryCorps MobileBooth to talk about how that camp transformed his life.

A version of this broadcast aired May 1, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, and was rebroadcast on March 3, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Middle photo: Gabe López. Courtesy of Chris López.
Bottom photo: The López family.

Michael Benjamin Ryan and Michael John Ryan

As a juvenile court judge in Cleveland, Ohio, Judge Michael Ryan encounters many children who have had a tough start in life. At StoryCorps, Ryan explains to his 19-year-old son — also named Michael — that he knows where these kids are coming from.

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During his own childhood in Cleveland during the 1970’s, Ryan lived in a violent household where he often witnessed his heroin-addicted mother endure beatings from his stepfather.

He sought refuge in books, went on to study law, and eventually gained a seat on the bench at Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court. But Ryan’s difficult childhood didn’t just motivate him to better his own life — it shaped who he is as a dad and what he wants for his own children.

Originally aired February 24, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Bottom photo: Judge Ryan and his son, Michael, at Michael’s graduation on May 31, 2015. Courtesy of the Ryan family.

Claudia Dewane and Bill Dewane

When Bill Dewane was a college freshman, he suffered a severe spinal cord injury. He was hospitalized for more than six months and doctors thought he’d never walk again. He did regain his ability to walk, but was left partially paralyzed and with chronic pain.

Claudia Maraviglia graduated from Rutgers University in 1973 and took a job at a New Jersey bank before heading to graduate school that fall. She was working at the bank when she met Bill, and a confused transaction led to their first date.

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Bill and Claudia married on July 12, 1975 — this year marks their 42nd wedding anniversary.

Bill is a retired budget analyst for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Claudia teaches social work at Temple University. They have two daughters, Maggie and Mollie Dewane.

At StoryCorps, Bill and Claudia discuss the beginnings of their relationship and reflect on their years together.

Originally broadcast February 10, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo: Bill and Claudia on their wedding day. Courtesy of the Dewane Family.

Philip and Andy

In 2014, we heard a conversation between Paul Braun, a sergeant in the Minnesota National Guard, and the interpreter he served with in Iraq, who goes by the name Philip — a moniker bestowed on him by American soldiers because he favored Philip Morris cigarettes.

In Iraq, former interpreters’ lives are in constant danger because of their association with American soldiers. So Braun helped sponsor Philip’s immigration to the U.S., and at the time of their interview, they were living together in Minneapolis.

But Philip had to leave his wife and four children behind in Iraq. He spent three years attempting to obtain visas for them so they could join him in Minnesota, even putting his life at risk by traveling back to Iraq in 2014.

Finally, in October 2016, the visas came through, and now Philip’s family — including his nephew, Andy, who was also an interpreter — are adjusting to life in the U.S. Two months after his family’s arrival, Philip came back to StoryCorps to give Andy some advice on adjusting to his new home.

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You can learn more about Philip’s story in the 2015 documentary The Interpreter.

Originally broadcast February 3, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Bottom photo: Philip with his wife, Ghania, the day she arrived in Minneapolis. Photo by Sameer Saadi.

Francisco Ortega and Kaya Ortega

Growing up in rural Tijuana, Mexico, Francisco Ortega was among the youngest of his family’s 10 children. In 1975, his parents made the difficult decision to leave him and his siblings in the care of his beloved aunt, Trinidad, and move to Los Angeles to find work. Once there, his father worked as a busboy and his mother as a seamstress in a clothing factory; each month they sent back money for food and clothing.

francisco-1978-1Only about 6 years old when his parents left, Francisco was an intuitive, energetic, and excitable boy. He spent hours playing in the hills and fruit orchards of Tijuana, and chasing rattlesnakes with his dogs. He also acted up a lot and often gave his aunt a hard time.

He didn’t see his parents for nearly three and a half years, and couldn’t understand why they left. He missed his mother terribly but through hard work his parents became more financially stable, and in 1978, 9-year-old Francisco joined them in Los Angeles.

At StoryCorps, Francisco—who works to strengthen relationships between the Los Angeles Police Department and the community—shares memories of his childhood in Tijuana with his 16-year-old daughter, Kaya, and tells her about the day he left Mexico to reunite with his parents in Los Angeles.

Originally aired December 16, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Above: Francisco and his younger sister Ana after arriving in Los Angeles in 1978. Photo courtesy of Francisco Ortega.

Leslye Huff and Mary Ostendorf

Leslye Huff (left) and her partner, Mary Ostendorf (right), met in 1983. Leslye was open about her feelings for Mary and wasn’t shy about publicly showing her affection—even on their first date. Mary felt less comfortable with public displays of affection and had not told many people in her life about her sexuality, including her family.

When Mary introduced Leslye to her mother, Agnes, they did not immediately reveal to her the nature of their relationship, but during that meeting Leslye felt a connection with Agnes. “I liked her. She was short like me, and pretty vivacious. She and I sat and talked and I thought the makings of a pretty good friendship was beginning.”

Later that year, days before they gathered for Thanksgiving, Leslye picked up the phone and told Agnes the truth about her relationship with Mary.

At StoryCorps, Mary and Leslye discuss what happened after the phone call and how their relationship with Agnes changed in the years that followed.

Originally aired November 27, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Saboor Sahely and Jessica Sahely

Saboor Sahely grew up in eastern Afghanistan’s Laghman province. He remembers the village in which he was raised as being like a big family, with neighbors coming and going freely from each other’s homes, sharing food, and attending one another’s celebrations. On hot summer nights they would sleep on their roofs entertaining each other with stories late into the night. That is also where he first heard about America, planting a desire to one day come to the United States.

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In 1978, a long Afghani civil war began, and Saboor’s family, fearing that he would be unable to soon leave the country, urged him to go to the United States. He had already been accepted to Utah State University, and when he arrived in New York City, he only had with him a suitcase, the phone number of a relative he had never met, and a few hundred dollars. He used the money to purchase a bus ticket to Logan, Utah.

In Logan, he got a job as at a restaurant as a dishwasher and quickly moved up to cook, eventually becoming a district manager. But the restaurant ran into financial problems and closed. Saboor used the money he had saved to purchase the building, and in 1983 he opened Angie’s Restaurant—named after his then 2-year-old daughter.

Starting 26 years ago, Angie’s Restaurant began offering free meals to the Logan community on Thanksgiving. Saboor came to StoryCorps with his younger daughter, Jessica, to talk about his life in Afghanistan, and how the lessons he learned continue to inspire him.

Originally aired November 25, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

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Each week, the StoryCorps podcast shares these unscripted conversations, revealing the wisdom, courage, and poetry in the words of people you might not notice walking down the street.