Surviving Columbine

I woke up Tuesday, April 20 at 6 A.M., turned off my alarm, and decided I’d rather sleep than go to school that day. Nothing important was going on until Friday, and my Mom would call me in sick. I was sick – sick of going to school. I’d been going to school for 12 years. I deserved a day off, so I went back to bed.

I soon woke again feeling I really needed to go to school. The impression was so strong I couldn’t go back to sleep. The though that I urgently needed to talk to my friend Jessica kept running through my mind. I had this unbelievably strong feeling that I must go to school and speak with her. Now fully awake, I got dressed in time to make it to my first class.

I was a student assistant in the library during the first lunch period, and I often visited with Jess and her friends before or after my shift. I hoped I could get a word in with Jess before the librarians assigned me my work. When I arrived, I already had a stack of books to shelve. I would be talking to Jess anytime soon. I’d just have to catch her after lunch.

Soon I felt an even stronger need to talk to Jess – right that very moment! The impression was so overpowering I couldn’t wait. I caught Jess’s eye and motioned for her to join me between the bookshelves.

Minutes after Jess and I started talking, we heard loud noises coming from outside the building. Many students ran to the windows to see what was going on, but thinking it was just construction, we continued our chat. Then the art teacher, Mrs. Nielson, ran into the library screaming, "Some kids have guns!"

“What? That can’t be true!” Jess and I said to each other. “It must be a stupid senior prank.” But the look on Mrs. Nielson’s face and the tone of her voice as she talked to a 911 operator made my heart start to pound. I could feel the adrenaline running through my body. I grabbed Jess’s arm, thinking we could escape out the back door of the library. All I could think about was getting out of the school. But Mrs. Nielson had received instructions from the operator and screamed at us to get under the tables. She kept screaming until everyone was down.

I wanted to flee, but a senior girl motioned frantically for us to join her under a table. Jess and I ran to the table, which was in the middle section of the library. We waited under the table, not knowing what to expect. Moments later, we heard shots as the gunmen stormed the halls. People started screaming, but we stayed under the table. I was having trouble believing anything was real until the gunmen entered the library and I heard their voices loudly asking “Are you guys scared?”

“Of course,” I said to myself. “What kind of a question is that?” Maybe this wasn’t real. Maybe it was just a cruel joke and they were going to let us go.

I was wrong. It was all too real. They said, “Well, don’t be, because you’re all going to die anyway.”

“No!” I though amidst the cries and screams I heard from throughout the library. “I don’t want to die!”

Still in shock, I understood clearly how serious their intentions were. “Where are the police?” I thought. It seemed forever since Mrs. Nielson called 911. “There are usually campus cops around. Why don’t they come and help us? What are we going to do now?”

I wasn’t sure how many students were in the library, but I knew we were trapped. Our attackers, heavily armed, stood between us and both sets of doors. We could neither fight nor flee. We were completely defenseless and at the mercy of two very unstable, inhumane people with guns.

There was someone who could help. While badly frightened and trembling with shock, I knew Heavenly Father could aid me. I held the hands of the other girls under our table and began praying aloud.

The moment I began my prayer, I felt an instant rush of peace, calmness, and warmth. I pleaded with my Heavenly Father. I remember my exact words, “Dear Heavenly Father. We need help. I’m so scared. I don’t want to die. Please help us.”

His Holy Spirit told me, “You’re not going to die, but you have to endure this. You won’t die. Just hold on. Although I wanted more than anything to be instantly transported out of the library, I had faith in my Heavenly Father and trusted in his promise to me.

From under our table we heard countless shots ring out. The gunshots were so loud I covered my ears. Then we heard bombs go off and the floor shook beneath us. The wounds were intense and everything was total confusion. A fire alarm punctuated the fanatical ranting of the gunmen, increasing the din.

I wondered where the gunmen were. I could see little from my place on the floor. I heard their voices, but wasn’t sure what they were doing. The gunshots grew louder as the gunmen moved closer. Then the firing stopped as the gunmen came to our table and set their weapons on top of it.

My heart was pounding! They were right above us! I could see their feet, only inches from my face. Our legs stuck out back because it was impossible to fit all three of us under the table. All the muscles in my body tightened, especially in my jaw and arms.

The whisperings of the Holy Spirit again filled my mind, “Keep your heads down, eyes closed, and be very, very quiet and still.” I whispered this to my friends under the table. Others were crying and screaming, but we lay still. Above us, the gunmen reloaded their weapons and discussed their plans. My heart pounded so loudly I was sure they would hear. My brain whirled in confusion.

Although I knew I wouldn’t die, I was still scared I would be shot, and I tried to prepare myself for what it would feel like and what I should do. I remembered reading a magazine article about a girl who was shot in the back while attending school. She said it felt like someone just punched her really hard. “Maybe that wouldn’t be so terrible,” I thought, closing my eyes again.

Surely the gunmen could see us – but they seemed not to notice us! I really believe that Heavenly Father shielded us from the gunmen’s eyes.

Then another miracle happened. The gunmen left. I didn’t understand or care why they left or where they went. I was flooded with relief and joy as I heard students crying they were gone and that we could leave.

These were longest, most terrifying moments of my life. The room was clouded with smoke and the smell of gunpowder. I stood up and began running. I didn’t check the status of those around me, something I will always regret. Following the other students, I scrambled for the doors at the far end of the library. The Holy Spirit whispered to me once more: “Run, Keep your head up and don’t look down. Just look toward the door and get out.”

I kept my head up, never looking down. I’m grateful I followed those promptings, because I later learned that some of the most horrifying things that happened that day happened in the rear of the library.

A week and a half later, my brother Michael returned to classes at Chatfield High School (in Littleton, CO). I graduated in May. I participated in some group counseling sessions through the Church. Eventually I couldn’t cope with any more counselors and stopped going. I wanted to pretend the whole thing never happened.

Wanting to leave everything behind, I moved to Salt Lake City that summer to stay with my grandma and attend college that fall. I hoped that by moving, I’d be able to sleep again, but my insomnia followed me. My heart raced at the sound of police cars, ambulances, fire engines, or helicopters. I felt lost and confused, alone and alienated.

I finished my freshman year and returned home for the summer. I hoped to move on with my life; I didn’t want to go to a therapist or be medicated for my problems, so I continued to ignore my situation. When I returned to begin my sophomore year, I was unable to stay in class. I was plagued by anxiety.

Each day became more unbearable. I felt worthless, and unworthy of my life. I thought about the kids who’d been killed in the library. If any of them had had the chance to live, would they have done a better job of it than I had? I wasn’t any better than them – why did I live?

My grandma passed away in July 2001. Mom and I reminisced about her good life and how she was great at setting goals. She was a fighter, always working to keep going, always making goal and goal.

I thought about the direction my life had taken. I wasn’t going anywhere because of my anxiety. After grandmother’s funeral, I made a conscious decision to fight my fears. I was going to fight for my life and my right to be happy.

In the Columbine library, I couldn’t fight against my attackers, so Heavenly Father stepped in to fight for me. Now, my attackers were in mind, but this time I was able to fight for me. It was going to take a lot of strength and energy, but I knew that with His help I could win.

What did I want to do? What was to be my goal? The answer was surprisingly simple: I wanted to serve a mission. My 20th birthday was approaching, so I had one year to get ready. After Columbine and my emotional illness, the idea of a mission seemed out of reach – it would either have to wait, or I just couldn’t go.

During grandma’s funeral, my dream of someday serving a mission kept coming back to me. I knew preparing for a mission would be tough. I would have to battle change in my mind, my thought processes, and my attitude. But now I had a goal, and I would not yield until it was accomplished. I wasn’t going to give up on that dream that started in primary. I couldn’t give up on that little girl who was still inside me – who wrote in her first journal at age eight: “I am going to be a missionary.”

Hard times will come and when they do, we can take them as a challenge to discover and improve ourselves. The ability to gain knowledge is a blessing, so we must never stop learning.

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