At first, Alan Hinman thought he heard fireworks. It was July 1, after all. But within seconds he realized it was gunfire. The blasts grew louder and louder as he walked to the front of the Pettit & Martin law firm office on the 30th floor of the 101 California St. building in downtown San Francisco. Hinman and an office manager and approached the stairwell to find out what was happening.
“When we got to the door and opened the door, two women were being shot at,” Hinman recalls of the 1993 shooting. “And I’d never seen two more petrified people in my life. All I could say was ‘run’ and they literally came out of their shoes.”
Once the two women made it inside, Hinman and the manager shut the door and hid.
More than 20 people, however, just stood at the front of the office. All the shooter—later identified as mortgage broker Gian Luigi Ferri, a disgruntled client of the law firm—had to do was shoot the door lock to break in.
The lockdown lasted for six hours. Police eventually found Ferri’s body right outside the group’s doors. Armed with two semi-automatic TEC-9 pistols and a .45-caliber handgun, Ferri killed eight people and wounded six before shooting himself that day.
Hinman rarely talked about the shooting, which is approaching its 25th anniversary.
But when the San Jose March for Our Lives organizers spoke at the weekly Orchard City Indivisible meeting this past spring—a Campbell political group he regularly attends—his attitude changed. That meeting coupled with the barrage of headlines about similar tragedies throughout the nation inspired the San Jose resident to channel that long-repressed personal trauma into community activism.
“Some of my closer friends know about it, but other than that, people don’t really know my story,” says Hinman, who serves on the Neighborhood Commission in San Jose’s Berryessa district. “I haven’t wanted to tell it. But when I heard these kids speak, I said you know what, it’s time do something. It’s time to talk again and tell people my story and tell them how horrible it really is.”
The high school student activists spurred him into action. Prospect High senior and rally coordinator Novia Dattatri recalls how he went up to their table, identifying himself as a victim of gun violence. He told them if they wanted him at the March for Our Lives, he’d be interested in speaking. They accepted.
“If you’re not involved in a mass shooting directly, I think you feel a little disconnected,” Dattatri says. “But when you hear about this experience like first hand, it's hard to feel disconnected anymore. You really feel like you're part of the same issue.”
Hinman’s message resonated with Dattari, who said she found it at once heartbreaking and motivating. “Mr. Hinman’s speech definitely made everyone feel exactly what it felt like to go through such a shooting,” she says, “and encouraged them to really go make some change about it. Like this is what’s happening. We need to do something.”
In a 2am interview hours after the 1993 shooting, Hinman told a radio station he would never again do another interview. A quarter-century later, he stood onstage and shared his story with thousands of people at Guadalupe River Park.
Hinman returned to work the day after the shooting to a standing ovation from his fellow Eastman Kodak employees, who did maintenance for copiers, scanners and document reproduction throughout the building, and company executives.
CEO Kay Whitmore even gave money from his personal checking account to Hinman and the other employee who helped the two women. Hinman had mixed feelings about the gesture. “It makes you feel really good that your company wants to make sure that you’re OK,” he says. “But the flip side of it was that it really wasn’t needed. I mean I appreciated it, but I mean I felt like I had done nothing all that special.”
Life soon resumed its normal pace. Within 24 hours, Hinman said crews cleaned up the remaining marks of slaughter. “From the 30th floor where this man had shot himself, there was a trail of blood that went down, I don’t know, 15 floors,” he says. “Like it was just dripping down the walls. It’s much more violent and much more gruesome than most people can imagine.”
Every time he went to work for a long time after, Hinman got physically ill and had to make a trip to the bathroom. A lot of Kodak employees mandatorily saw doctors and psychiatrists, including Hinman. “We just didn’t talk about it,” he says. “It was just something we knew we had to do.”
Because of his post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, Hinman transferred down to San Jose—where he’s lived since—almost a year after the shooting.
But the trauma lingered a long time after. Every time Hinman hears about another shooting, he can’t sleep through the night.
Coping with Trauma
Dr. David Spiegel, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Stanford University, studied survivors of the 101 Cal shooting a couple of days after it occurred. He published an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry about their PTSD symptoms, which he says generally involve intrusive recollections of traumatic experiences.
“You feel you can’t stop thinking about it, and sometimes when you do you feel like you’re reliving it,” Spiegel explains. “So you’re not just remembering it, you’re reliving it. You get some of the physiological arousal. The same uncertainty about whether you’re going to get out of it alive.”
Hearing about other shootings tends to bring up memories and reactions survivors associate with the shooting. Spiegel adds that negative feelings such as inappropriate guilt can come up, such as thinking they should have done more to save people.
Some experience serious symptoms, some don’t get many, while others experience them sometimes. Then stigma comes into play. Spiegel says some blame themselves for tragedies they couldn’t control and ask themselves, “Why aren’t I tough enough to just deal with this?”
Spiegel, who has worked with many survivors of mass shootings for decades, notes people tend to lack empathy for them.
“It’s a horrible thing to go through,” he says. “It just completely undoes your sense of who you are and your sense of vulnerability. The fact that at any moment you can turn into an object to be shot is a very humbling experience.”
Nevertheless, some trauma survivors, such as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School activists from Florida and now Hinman, take on a cause to help others. That, more than anything, he says, has helped him heal.
On June 14, Hinman attended the 25th anniversary dinner for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which was founded in response to the 101 Cal shooting, and later merged with Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun control group founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was critically injured by a gunshot while in office. Hinman is in the process of becoming an advocacy leader for the organization.
Earlier this month, Assemblyman Kansen Chu (D-San Jose) honored Hinman for his activism by granting him the District 25 Community Hero Award. Alycia Hinman, his 20-year-old daughter, says she’s proud of her father for finding his voice.
“I know he’s always wanted to share his thoughts,” she says. “He’s definitely a very political guy, so I’m glad that he gets to do this. Because I know he’s always wanted to.”
Alycia says her father first told her about the shooting four years ago, but he only opened up about it just before and after speaking at the March for Our Lives. She teared up as she listened to his calls for action, noting the sadness in his voice and how he isn’t usually an emotional person.
“He’s just a helping kind of dude,” she adds. “I don't know, I look up to him. He’s like a hero to me, you know?”
On July 1, Hinman plans to visit the 101 Cal building for the 25th anniversary of the shooting. He hopes to bring his signs protesting gun violence, answer questions and reunite with Davina Floresca and Susan Beifuss, the women he helped save.