It started as an unremarkable day. I was in my choir class — as a quirky theatre kid, it was where felt most at home, my safe haven — when suddenly we heard a loud bang and pandemonium broke out as two heavily armed students came into my High School shooting anyone in their path.
The day was April 20th, 1999, and I was a student at Columbine High School.
I was lucky. I ran, and managed to make it through the auditorium as the fire alarm rang and the sound of ricocheting bullets reached my ears from the lower commons area of the school. When I made it to the main hall, glass from the front doors of the school shattered in front of me before a teacher pointed me toward another route to safety.
At that point there had never been anything comparable to Columbine. We had to come to grips with both the loss of our friends, and the feeling that we were robbed of simply being able to go to school without the fear of being shot in the cafeteria or elsewhere. To further complicate things, we had to process all of these emotions before the very public glare of the national and international news cameras.
In the days that followed, local, state and federal leaders assured us that this was an anomaly — that this will never happen again. And we believed them. We had to believe them. After all, what adult would ever allow a system to remain in place that enables children to be murdered in their classrooms?
After 21 years, we should no longer tolerate laws that allow for the mass killing of innocent people in our schools, our places of worship, our movie theaters, our offices, our streets and our homes!
I look at all these new survivors and my heart aches knowing their journey won’t be easy. They will grow a stronger determination to fight and to love, and my wish for them is that they will be spared the aftershocks that have wreaked havoc on my community. In some instances leading to survivor’s guilt, depression, suicide, substance abuse, and challenging family situations. These are the things that people don’t talk about, but become part of the daily lives of people touched by tragedies like this.
After Columbine, we left it to “the grown-ups” to make this right, to fix the system, to keep us safe. Their efforts have been — at best — a disappointment. Now, I see a generation who are no longer leaving it to the adults. I hear voices that WON’T be failed.
I will never forget what happened to me and my community 21 years ago, and I’m grateful to the many that are honoring through action — action that says we will not let our voices and the memories of our loved ones be cast aside. We will never lose sight of those we lost, so our vision is clear as to where we must continue to go. You’ve heard my story but I am not the only survivor and advocate fighting for change. There are thousands of other people that want to share their story about their loved one or how they survived. Look around. Listen to each other. Learn from one another.
Thank you for the opportunity to tell my story, and I’m driven to have America hear yours.
Salli Garrigan, Columbine Survivor