Post traumatic: Proposed shooting range stresses refugees

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Tilahun Goshu, an Ethiopian ex-prisoner and refugee, built his dream home in Greene County, only to learn an open-air gun range is proposed right outside his backyard. The county's Board of Supervisors has denied the proposal. Photo by Ron Rammelkamp Tilahun Goshu, an Ethiopian ex-prisoner and refugee, built his dream home in Greene County, only to learn an open-air gun range is proposed right outside his backyard. The county’s Board of Supervisors has denied the proposal. Photo by Ron Rammelkamp

U.S. citizenship meant a new beginning for Tilahun Goshu and his family—one where they would no longer live in fear and they could begin building their dream home, which Goshu envisioned being passed down to his children and his children’s children. But no sooner than he moved into his new place, he learned that a proposed 20-lane open-air firing range could be located just a stone’s throw away from his backyard.

“I was rescued,” Goshu says, “and then I found myself in the middle of a battleground.”

Goshu, an Ethiopian ex-prisoner, businessman, writer and registered nurse fled his country to avoid a third imprisonment and another violent persecution. His crime? Writing books that criticized his country’s culture.

“Right after my first book published, there were protests in every city,” he says. “There were petitions to the government to take action in my life.”

Between 250 and 500 people showed up at Goshu’s various court hearings to protest his publications, which openly criticized the practice of female genital mutilation and encouraged members of his community, who he says are historically not self-sufficient, to work hard and be productive, rather than participating in many non-working religious holidays and relying on aid from developed countries.

Already twice-imprisoned for a total of three years, Goshu faced a third prosecution that would have incarcerated him for another five years when he fled to Kenya. After he left, his wife and kids were targeted. Protesters threw rocks and fired guns at their home, and one flashed a pistol at his wife, Meseret Workelul.

From the time Goshu escaped to Kenya, it took seven months for him to find someone in Nairobi who could rescue his family, the seven most stressful months he can remember. But what happened next changed everything—Goshu was granted U.S. citizenship five years after he resettled in Charlottesville through the International Rescue Committee in 2007.

Now that he’s had some time to adjust, Goshu says he sees no difference between the fear he felt in Ethiopia and the fear he’ll feel in Greene, if the firing range is approved.

He worries for the safety of his four children, who won’t be able to play in their own backyard because of the chance of being shot by a ricocheting bullet. His older children suffer from post traumatic stress disorder from their experiences in Ethiopia, he says,“They are doing well right now,” he says, “but when the gunshots start, the memories kept down in their mind will start working through.”

Lyle Durrer, the owner of Big Iron Outdoors gun shop who wants to open the shooting range, says assessments show that noise from the range will be no louder than ambient noise in the neighborhood.

Though many neighbors aren’t convinced this is the case, Goshu says it’s about so much more than noise. Not just for him, but for the 340 other homes within a mile of the proposed range—165 of them being only half a mile away.

“What are you going to do?” says Carolyn Politis with Greene County Neighbors. “From 10am to 8pm, [stay] out of your homes because there could be a bullet coming in, or do you put flak jackets on your kids?”

The Greene County planning commission meets tonight, August 19, at 6pm in the William Monroe High School auditorium for an open public hearing. The location has been selected to accommodate the mass of people expected to attend, according to Jay Willer, the commission’s chairman.