Today marks the 13th anniversary of the Columbine shootings. I’m guessing every Coloradan who was of high-school age then–and their parents–recalls the where/how/when they learned it was occurring.
For me, the news arrived as a freshman-Kate and a half-dozen friends rushed through the front door, kicking off shoes and asking what I knew. Very little, I told them. I was working. So we huddled together in the family room, seeing a campus fewer than 20 miles away, geographically, and no distance at all, emotionally, under seige.
Being the responsible adult, I insisted they call families and Rangeview High School officials to confirm where they were. Then I did the mom thing: I ordered pizza. And together, we watched the horrific event unfold. Video footage played and replayed until there was no clear sense of what had been and what now was. Except we all knew, what now was, was beyond comprehension.
A few days later, my former colleague Mary White, CEO of Swedish Medical, called to ask if I would help chronicle her hospital’s response for their archives. “I know truth changes over time,” she began, “and I want to record what truly happened as experienced by those who were there.” Over the next several weeks, I would interview 70 of her staff–security and life-flight personnel, physicians and nurses, psychologists, therapists, food service crews, volunteers and trauma surgeons.
It was this last set of interviews that touched me most, because trauma teams deal with the worst daily. I knew this. So I was prepared for the surgeon still so angry over the carnage he could barely speak. I wasn’t prepared for the one who could not stop crying as he described “cracking the chest” on a girl who looked just like his daughter. How he thought “we had lost her”. Until she asked him if she would live.
A day or so later, I drove Kate and her friends to Clement Park, adjacent to Columbine, where a spontaneous memorial was unfolding. I wanted to tell them they were safe. That this would not happen again. Instead, I walked and watched as teens and families who did not know each other hugged beside the small red car that had belonged to one who had died that day.
And we were all Columbine.