Remembering Columbine

I am a soon-to-be 62-year-old grandmother, mother, teacher, and friend. And I live in shocked confusion about a world I no longer recognize. Was it not that long ago when shootings prompted horror? Do we see them now through different eyes and with less depravity and torment? How can that even be possible?

In the last few days, the news has reported that young people found themselves in deadly situations for simply living their lives. One young woman died for innocently pulling into the wrong driveway. An angry, violent man shot at her vehicle as she tried to escape. 

Two teenage cheerleaders in the dark of the night made the mistake of getting into the wrong car in a grocery store parking lot; ignored apologies did little to alleviate this misunderstanding. A man shot both girls and now one young teen struggles to recover and awaits more surgery in a Texas hospital.

And one young teen who just wanted to pick up his little brothers witnessed violence. The homeowner shot the teen twice for simply going to the wrong address. And that narrative becomes even more cryptic. When he tried to find help, people turned him away. So what have we become as a nation that turns children away when they need help?

These shootings have haunted me for some time, but I have stuffed the horror down as the violence grows across our country. I turn off the news and look the other way. But yesterday was the anniversary of the Columbine shooting. The shooting happened on April 20, 1999, at around 11:00 am, and I remember it as if it happened yesterday. I recall exactly where I was when it occurred. At that time, I was student teaching at a Colorado high school full of incredible teens that made this experience a gift of a lifetime. It was early in the afternoon when the staff learned that a mass shooting had occurred in a Denver high school. Yet, in shocked silence, we continued to do our job. 

At one point, I had the school secretary come and tell me that I had a phone call in her office. Since one of her office doors opened into my classroom, she watched my students as I took the call. It was my worried mother still checking on her 37-year-old daughter.

“Have you heard the news?” My mother asked in a shaky voice.

I answered in a soft whisper, “Yes.”

“Do you still really want to be a teacher after all of this?”

“Yes, Mama,” I replied.

“Well, then, I am buying you a bulletproof vest for your birthday.”

That conversation took place twenty-four years ago. Since then, mass shootings have become common in our nation. We certainly do not outwardly view them with the same unimaginable horror as we once did. We have become numb to such inconceivable mayhem.

When the Columbine shooting occurred, it was the deadliest mass shooting in a high school and the deadliest mass shooting in the state of Colorado. Today, this state is no stranger to mass shootings; unfortunately, mass shootings across the nation have become inconceivable. According to the Washington Post, “More than 349,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine.” Let that sink in!

So how do we stop this madness? More guns? Fewer guns? This is not about politics or gun rights. Our nation demands answers. This country longs for a homeland where our greatest assets, our children, can attend school without fear of becoming a victim of gun violence.

Six and a half years after Columbine, my mom left this world. Today, I look at this nation and wonder; if she could still call me, what would she say now?


Photo by qiwei yang on Unsplash