Beth Lavely: Columbine survivor says ‘never forget; never again’
April 20 marks the 19th anniversary of the school shooting at Columbine High School. Since my time as a student at Columbine, I have tried to develop as a leader working to serve our whole community with diligent evasion of anything that identified me with the school.
For many years after the shooting, I was angered by the disempowering victimization of my peers and superficial scapegoating. Now, I am both inspired by young leaders, particularly from Parkland, Florida, and ashamed that we failed again to protect them. No longer can I stay silent about very basic and resolvable issues surrounding unfettered gun ownership and violence that has resulted in an epidemic of tragedy and sorrow for communities around the country.
I remember crouching against a table in an unlocked closet with 33 of my peers and my biology teacher, listening as bombs went off outside our door. Shots were fired all around, some narrowly missing us with metal cabinets taking the hit instead. As we crouched together, silent for hours listening and feeling stalked like prey, we heard the laughter of two insane young men, yelling that they wanted to kill the world.
After, I remember seeing myself outside of myself as I was guided through a bombed-out cafeteria and was directed to run with my hands on my head as I ran by the fallen bodies of my peers.
This was Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. The violence that ravaged my community and devastated the lives of thousands for years to come is but a drop in the bucket of tragedy that has unfolded in the years since.
There have been more than 208 mass school shootings since Columbine. Today, we share the nightmare of Las Vegas (58 killed), The Pulse Night Club (49 killed), Virginia Tech (32 gone), Sandy Hook (27 mostly babies), the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs (26 parishioners), Luby’s Cafeteria in Texas (16), San Ysidrio’s McDonald’s (21), The University of Texas (16 killed), Parkland, Florida (17 murdered), San Bernardino (14), Edmond, Oklahoma (14 gone), Columbine High School (13) and many more.
In 1999, the shooting at my school was the worst mass shooting in decades. Today, the shooting does not even rank in the top-10 shootings with the most casualties.
Again, I am guided by respect and admiration of students in Florida who we failed yet again to protect. I am also guided by shame that more than 150,000 people under the age of 40 in this country have experienced a mass shooting at their school. I am enraged that the very thought of limiting the weapons that allow for such carnage is met with ignorance, lack of compassion and, for some, not even the slightest bit of consideration.
Some will say — and do say — that it is the culture not guns. Some said that it was bullying at my school. Nevertheless, had the individuals who were able to carry out countless attacks not had access to semi-automatic weapons, bombs and other devices, the casualty numbers and trauma of many would have — and could be — prevented.
Today, no other country in the developed world has so many guns. Not surprisingly, in this country, there is a mass shooting nine out of 10 days. Guns do kill people, and clearly, we should do something about that.
If, indeed, it is our culture, than the least we can do is to take guns out of the mix of such a violent and volatile culture while all of us take on the hard work to critically understand why our culture is violent and how we plan on changing that. Before we accept a culture where our children and babies have to go through mass shooting or “shush” drills, why don’t we consider the very real things we can do to address gun ownership.
My community used the phrase “never forget” after the shooting at Columbine. I won’t ever forget you:
- Cassie Bernal
- Steve Curnow
- Corey DePooter
- Kelly Fleming
- Matt Kechter
- Daniel Mauser
- Daniel Rohrbough
- Rachel Scott
- Isaiah Shoels
- John Tomlin
- Lauren Townsend
- Kyle Velasquez
- Coach Dave Sanders
I also won’t forget the babies at Sandy Hook; the xenophobic, racist and homophobic attacks on the immigration center in Birmingham that killed 13 and at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando. I won’t forget all of the communities impacted directly by mass shootings. I won’t forget the young leaders that guide us today from Parkland, Florida, and the growing global youth led movement.
We are all responsible, and we can change this. I ask that we as a community take a stand with concrete action and demand “never again.”
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