I have shared this story many times. With friends, in therapy, like I have shared it over and over; it feels like. Yet I have never shared it publically because part of me feels like it isn’t my story to share. It is though.
I experienced it to a depth that many can never say they have experienced something like this. I have listened, wept with, prayed with victims.
I have yelled at God in pure, doubtful anger over the tragedy that was and will always be Columbine. This is the depth of my heart. As we go deeper into school shootings, as they seem to get worse.
When the news of Sandy Hook came across the wires and I heard of kindergartners gunned down two weeks before Christmas. When 26 college students are murdered on a college campus; when a high school boy goes into a high school five miles from my home and shoots a student because he was angry with his debate coach; and she dies before Christmas. My heart wretched, it vomited internally at the memories of that day; the fear, the aftermath.
April 20, 1999; that day is etched into my memory forever. I remember every.single.detail. It was the weekend after prom, so the details were being around the hall. You know “the details” I even remember what I was wearing. It actually came to me this morning as I was processing in my journal the anxiety I am having about writing this post.
It was my senior year. We were countdown of days left of school. 30 and we were done. It was 420 (puff puff pass) so kids were skipping school like woah.
My best friend Sara and I ditched English, went to her house for lunch and as we were leaving cop cars, ambulances and fire trucks were flying down the main road through Littleton. We thought nothing of it. Littleton was a safe town. The biggest thing we were known for was our mega crazy car chases.
Heading back to school around 1230 there were more, and more and more. Cops. Fire trucks. Ambulances. Something wasn’t right. We knew. It wasn’t normal.
Back at school the rumors already were flying. Drive by shooting. Gang shooting (in Littleton? No.)
Then it was principal teacher and security officer overload in the main hallway. “Go to your classrooms NOW. Do not stop. Go and do not LEAVE” No explanation, just GO.
They obviously knew what was going on and there had been a threat at our school as well (Dakota Ridge, where I went is five minutes from Columbine) also received bomb threats as did most schools in the surrounding area. This was the first school shooting; they didn’t know how to handle it.
Panic mode set it and they shooed us to our classrooms right away. There was no protocol for this.
As I was rushed to my temporary building outside of the school I remember thinking oh this cannot be a big deal. Because big deals don’t happen here, we live in a safe community.
The last time something big happened was when an angry ex husband went to a local grocery store and opened fire. The sheriff’s officer he shot was the father of a friend of mine. But we still felt safe. That was a domestic incident.
Once in our classrooms we were given more info; school shooting, bombs, bomb threats at our school; you cannot leave unless a parent comes to get you and signs you out.
I was in philosophy class and my teacher was a grade A douchcanoe. He had unhooked his intercom. When my mom had come to pick me up, after she had picked up my brother and sister I could not hear my name being announced over the loud speaker, although I could see her car in the roundabout.
I was trapped.
We had the TV on, watching the ugly, tragic scene unfold before our eyes. We watched scared as students ran out of a school we play against in sports with their hands above their heads, SWAT and FBI storming the school. The news ticker at the bottom of the screen at that point was estimating 25 dead.
Phone calls were impossible to make because every parent, student, teacher and person was trying to get through to someone. I kept calling my mom to have her come back and get me. I wanted out. I felt trapped.
I can still, vividly see the image of the students running out of the building with their hands over their hands. I can only imagine how tragic that was for them.
When we had to go to the bathroom, they called a security officer, took us to the boy’s locker room, but went in first and searched for bombs or any type of threat; came out and said “be quick”
Fear is an inadequate emotion to describe what was running through my body. It was surreal. All I could see were those kids running out of the school with their hands up because they did not know who the shooters were.
When the SWAT officer infamously pulled Patrick Ireland out of the window, our hearts pounded with relief. I know the officer who pulled him out and after Columbine he retired. The gravity was something unexplainable.
Our whole community was struck in places that we never expected; the next days’ were like an aggressive nightmare that you never wake up from. I finally left school around 5pm, got home to the sound of the phone ringing. Ringing. Ringing.
That damn phone would not stop ringing for days. It just wouldn’t stop.
Out of the woodwork came people who hadn’t spoken to us in years wanted to know if it was my school and if I was ok.
NO, I was not ok. There had been a vicious attack, five minutes away from my school, I was trapped in a building for five hours watching news coverage.
NO I most certainly not okay.
The next days and weeks were like a being high but not high. There was a memorial made at the park by the school where the nasty, vicious reporters set up camp. I say vicious because they were. They wanted a story.
I don’t believe for one second that they cared about what actually happened. Maybe they did, maybe their hearts broke. In reality they wanted the story.
We hung out at the memorial. Leaving flowers and posters, gathering together and holding each other; even holding those we did not know because we needed the closeness. Two guys in the community wrote this beautiful song, which is where the title of this post comes from. It held us together. At the public memorials. At the Walk for Columbine.
Everyone seemed to flee to churches, because for some reason God felt safe yet later that would be my biggest questions as to how a loving God could let something like Columbine happen (please leave your answers out of this)
We went back to school after they had all been searched for bombs, weapons and any sort of threat.
I had a month left and then I was done. If we got school work done we were lucky. Some teachers were better than others about us letting us process. Some had a boot strap mentality.
I still hurt, I still grieve. I don’t understand.
I know that Rachel Scotts (the first victim shot) family set up Rachel’s Challenge afterwards and now they go to various schools and youth groups sharing her message of hope in Christ. They actually came to the youth group I went to when I was pregnant with Abigail and they showed the video of the kids running out of the school and it sent a trigger through my spine so bad that I had to leave.
The ache it still causes me is a big part of my past. I carry it. Every time there is a school shooting I lose it. I want to grab my baby and hold her tight and scream “NO NO NO, you should not live in this world”
When this last shooting in Colorado happened I got the email that her school was on lockdown and I couldn’t get her. I was at Target and I fell down in the baby bottle aisle and sobbed.
Sobbed for Sandy Hook. Sobbed for Virginia Tech. Sobbed for the Amish School House. Sobbed for Platte Canyon High school (up in the mountains) I sobbed and panicked that my baby girl was stuck in school and not five miles away (again) there was another shooting. A boy with such hurts that he felt like his only option was to take a gun to school and shoot.
After the shooting ended at Columbine there were 15 dead, including the shooters. I include the shooters in the death count because there is a deep reason why they felt that they had to plot a massacre like that. Deep seeded wounds.
They built a beautiful memorial with the names of all the victims (leaving out the shooters) with quotes, some bible verses and memories. I like to go there and sit, leave flowers and remember.
There are bricks with words and quotes from students, Bill Clinton, and various others from the community surrounding the memorial. It’s an almost Holy memorial. There almost always seems to be a breeze. I shiver and remember and grieve.
I’ll always grieve.
There are some things you never stop grieving.
January 21, 2014 at 10:11 am
Bethany, I was in China when I heard about Columbine and was stunned beyond words. I went to Green Mountain high school — one of the three schools designed exactly the same. Columbine, GM, and I think … was it Arvada West? Can’t remember the third. In a bizarre way I could picture this event. Your library? Just like mine. I’d spent hours there. Thank you for sharing. When I drive by that area, I always remember. Can’t help it.
January 21, 2014 at 5:51 pm
I think of Abigail right now, nestled safely in your womb, and I wonder how the trauma affects her, even to this day. I send both of you love, visualizing a bubble around both of you, filled with infinite love and peace.
I believe your writing is powerful, Bethany, and that you will be one of the writers who write us into a better world. Abigail and her generation deserves better. You deserve better.
On this day, this night, I ask God that this bubble surrounds both of you even as another school shooting opens up old wounds.