I am a survivor of the Columbine High School Shootings. This year, on April 20, it will have been 15 years since that tragic day. It’s been 15 years. At the time, I was only 15. I never would have thought of 15 years as a lifetime, but for some, it was.
Most would think that after all this time, we might let the anniversary slip by without a thought, but that’s yet to happen. This time of year is always more difficult for the Columbine Rebel Surviving Class. Yes, some years are easier than others, but each year is a struggle in its own way.
I was merely a freshman that year. I thought I was going to eat lunch as I did every other day… little did I know that in an instant, my life would forever be changed. I hid under a table with my best friend. We looked at each other with poker faces, sure we would soon be laughed at for falling for a senior prank. The laugh never came. Instead the look of terror and fear struck Coach Sanders’ face as I saw him running across the cafeteria with a look I’d never seen before. That’s when I knew it was real.
I clenched my friend’s hand as tightly as I could and we got as low to the ground as possible. Out of nowhere, students began to run in every direction. We tried to stay with the crowd and found ourselves among many others in a crowded elevator. We assumed that we could escape the gunfire if only we could get upstairs. It took forever for the doors to close as there was a constant flow of students trying to get in. Once they did … a sense of relief. My plan was to run out of the elevator to the left, take another left, and I’d be out the door to freedom! That didn’t happen. Instead, when the doors opened, the hallway was full of smoke and the sound of gunfire was close. Very close. I curled into a ball on the floor and put my hand up where the buttons were. The elevator was silent. I pressed the door close button over and over again. One of my friends tried to calm us by saying the sound of gunfire was nothing more than blackcats and cherry bombs, but we all knew better.
Once we reached the ground floor again we were greeted by a friendly face: the choir teacher (who actually went to CHS with my father as a child). He rushed us into the auditorium where we waited … and waited … then I heard the janitor tell the choir teacher to hit someone in the head, and we were off running again. Only this time we would find freedom. The janitor used himself as a human shield as we ran behind him to the doors.
12 students and one teacher, Coach Sanders, died that day.
Now, as an adult and a mother, I don’t mourn for my story. I’ve made peace with my story. Now I struggle to make peace with the young lives that were lost. I wonder: would they have children? Perhaps one of them would have cured cancer. What is the world missing without these children who were taken too soon? My heart aches for the parents of the students who didn’t make it. I can’t imagine, but often consider, the pain they must feel having lost their child in such a senseless way.
I’m sharing my story not so that anyone will for sorry for me, but rather because it’s my hope that my story will touch someone. As Rebels we will Never Forget. I tell my story to keep the memory of the students lost alive, to let victims of other school shootings know that there is hope. And maybe, just maybe, dissuade someone who is considering violence as the answer to their problems to take another look at the permanence of their choice.
This year on April 20, please take time to remember the lives that were lost that day.
Cassie Bernall, 17
Steven Curnow, 14
Corey Depooter, 17
Kelly Fleming, 16
Matthew Kechter, 16
Daniel Mauser, 15
Daniel Rohrbough, 15
Rachel Scott, 17
Isaiah Shoels, 18
John Tomlin, 16
Lauren Townsend, 18
Kyle Valasquez, 16
William “Dave” Sanders, 47