April 20th, 1999. Twenty years ago. A day that will forever be etched in my mind and written into my story. I was only in 6th grade, but Columbine was up the street from my school. As soon as the first shots were fired, I remember being quickly moved off the playground. We were all placed into the most interior room of the school with the fewest windows, and access points. The doors were barricaded, and we were kept in lockdown for hours. The moment when we were finally released and our parents were on the other side with tears streaming down their faces, I think we all felt relief to see them, but also an understanding that our worlds had changed.
Cassie Bernall. Steven Curnow. Corey DePooter. Kelly Fleming. Matthew Kechter.
Daniel Mauser. Daniel Rohrbough. Dave Sanders. Rachel Scott. Isaiah Shoels.
John Tomlin. Lauren Townsend. Kyle Velasquez.
These are the names of 13 individuals that I will forever carry with me, that I will forever remember by name, that I will forever know their faces, that I will forever speak their stories.
Columbine was a pivotal moment, and one that redefined the threats against our children. It brought the atrocities that for so long we only believed existed in other countries to our front doorsteps. It exposed that even the places that we perceive to be safe havens for children to be vulnerable. It revealed how accessible and susceptible we all are, even our children.
Tragically, we now live in a world where we as parents, teachers, coaches, friends, and community leaders have to be hyper-vigilant to protect our children from predators, from trauma, from mass shootings. But it also begs the question of why there is a rise in disconnected youth, in child suicide rates, in child sexual abuse and trafficking.
Kids are desperate for deep connection, to be seen, to be heard, to be known. In the absence of meaningful relationships, they will seek to fill that void on social media, through unhealthy relationships, through self-harm…and the list goes on. As everyone looks to their phone.
It takes a village to raise a child, and unfortunately, some kids just don’t have that support system. There are children who are abused, neglected, malnourished, and traumatized. We have to stand in the gap for the children in our communities who are hiding in plain sight. We have to help them address any trauma they have already endured because without healing the cycle of violence will continue to play on repeat. And as, Coni Sanders, daughter of Columbine victim David Sanders illuminates, "trauma…doesn't stop when the bullets stop." Providing safe places is the first step in a child's healing journey. You have to feel safe to heal.
As I reflect on that day, 20 years ago, I know one thing we can change, the shooter has no name here. We refuse to glorify outrageous and violent attempts for fame. The name of the shooter ends here. That change starts with you.
"I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go."
- Rachel Joy Scott