For the past couple of decades, terrorism has been one of the most talked about things in the United States. There have been countless debates between politicians and people in the media about what to do about the threat of international terror and you probably have some strong opinions of your own.
But for all the attention we give it, there are surprisingly few American victims of international terrorism since 9/11. It’s perhaps for that reason that we generally don’t think terrorism will touch us personally. At an overseas New Year’s celebration, one American would find out how misguided that idea can be…
Jake was a 35-year-old businessman from Delaware who, over the course of his career, grew a family business into a flourishing subcontracting company that does government defense work. The money was good, the work was meaningful, and it included a lot of travel, all positives in his mind.
International Boarding School
Jake had attended Valley Forge Military Academy — a boarding prep school that was home to plenty of international students that he was still close with many years after graduating. On top of the international nature of his work, having friends across the globe was even more reason for globetrotting…
Sign Me Up
That’s why when some of his friends were planning a New Year’s reunion in Istanbul, Turkey, Jake was 100% on board. Istanbul had always been on his bucket list of places to visit. Without hesitation, he joined in the planning and booked a flight.
Having a Great Time
Right from the start, the trip was a spectacular success. Jake and his friends were having a great time on New Year’s after they’d hired a driver to take them around, seeing the sights that the ancient city had to offer. When they told the driver they were looking for a place to celebrate the end of the year, he had a recommendation for them…
Reina was an upscale nightclub famous in Istanbul for throwing legendary New Year’s celebrations. There would be no better place for the group to spend the evening, the driver told them. That sounded good to everyone, so they made their way to the club.
Just Getting Started
The night at Reina started off with a fantastic dinner. After their meal, Jake Raak and his friends moved to a table at the center of the club. But before the festivities fully got into swing, something happened that would change Jake’s life forever…
Just after they sat down at the table, an armed man walked into the club and opened fire into the crowd. When the shots first rang out, there was mass confusion. Jake’s first instinct amidst the chaos was to try to calm the people around him and find a way to survive.
But the gunman was a trained Islamic State fighter, armed with what Jake would call a “military-grade” weapon. “When you see a gun come in, it’s right there in front of you,” he said. “It’s not an angry child, not a person upset at their job… It’s a fully trained soldier straight off the battlefield of Syria,” Jake said…
“[That person] doesn’t want a thing from you,” Jake added. “But they have just one intention: to kill as many people as possible.” The gunman was firing about 100 feet away from Jake and his friends, who were in the center of the club with nowhere to take cover. Some ran out the door and jumped into the icy water of the nearby Bosphorus river. Others simply dropped to the ground.
Jake was struck by a bullet in the hip that traveled down his leg and came to rest in the muscle just above his knee. As he lay on the floor in agony, he was filled with rage. “I was more ready to beat the s*** out of this guy than run and hide,” Jake said but smartly, he stayed as still as possible to avoid being noticed…
After the gunman had shot for some time, 39 people were left dead with many more injured. Though several of Jake’s friends were among the injured, none of them was killed. Jake was treated at a local hospital for his wounds, but the pressures and difficulties he would face during his recovery hadn’t fully set in.
The gunman, a man named Abdulkadir Masharipov, had escaped the scene on that night but would be caught and charged for his crime. After the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack as revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria, the US armed forces would investigate and later carry out a raid that killed the IS operatives responsible for planning the attack…
Personal Hit Squad
When Jake heard of the raid, it was one of the best pieces of news he’d gotten since the attack. “It almost feels like [President Trump] is sending a hit squad for you,” he said. It was one of the few ways Jake felt the government had supported him since his ordeal.
The federal government has an International Terrorism Victim Expense Reimbursement Program that provides help for US citizens who are victims of terrorism abroad. It provided Jake with medical insurance that covered up to $50,000 in medical costs and up to $5,000 in mental health coverage. But even that help left Jake struggling to pay his bills…
The program works on a reimbursement method, which means Jake had to constantly explain the attack to new people in order to get his bills paid, reliving the trauma every time. “I’m appreciative of the program,” Jake said, “but I’m living on a shoestring budget. My life has completely changed.”
Another reason for his financial troubles is that after the attack, his business suffered drastically. Many of his regular customers simply assumed that, due to the nature of the attack, Jake shut down his company. Those who do call don’t want to hear about anything but the attack…
“People start talking about the attack immediately,” Jake said. “You think it would give you greater reach, but it’s almost a distraction.” Each sales call ends up being just like contacting the reimbursement program — a reliving of trauma.
The psychological consequences of that night have been profound for Jake. “My short-term memory, it’s shot,” he said. “I didn’t realize it but that’s a sign of PTSD.” He suffers from other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as well, including an inability to sleep…
As he tried to cope with the aftermath of the attack, Jake felt isolated in his unusual position as a US victim of international terrorism. “You’re alone in it. There’s no support,” he said. “Veterans died because their country is doing something they consider right in the world. For families of veterans… many times they take comfort in that they died for their country,” Jake said.
“With this, it has no meaning because there isn’t any discussion about the political basis of these attacks and what they’re reacting against.” Still, Jake Raak is determined to continue on and thrive in life. “A situation like this is either going to make or break you,” he said. “[I’m] not going to let it break me.”