Sunday, March 15, 2009
Crystal Miller - Class of 2000 - Author and Speaker
Describe your experience during the tragedy.
I spent the first several years of high school, consumed with gaining the approval of my peers. I was plagued with the belief that I was average and would never be great at anything. I tried, to no avail, to be a straight A student, to be a superstar athlete, to be prettier, funnier, and to be the most popular girl at school. Don’t get me wrong, I was descent at some of these things, and did have some really good friends, but never felt as though I could compare to my above average peers. Like most typical teenagers searching for acceptance, I made a lot of poor choices, drinking, trying drugs on one occasion and allowing guys to take little pieces of my heart weekend after weekend. Personally it just wasn’t working for me. Yet, everything would change my life and my belief about myself in the blink of an eye.
During my lunch hour, on Tuesday April 20, 1999 I found myself in the library at Columbine High School, studying for an important physics test I had forgotten about the night before. I begged two of my friends, Seth and Sara Houy (siblings), to join me there and help me study. The three of us were talking in low whispers, catching up on one another’s day, and after about five minutes, chaos began to break out in and around the school. We saw panicked students running through the halls, and heard a lot of loud noises, which prompted Seth to run to the windows in the library overlooking the schools student parking lot. He witnessed students running from the school, but couldn’t make sense of anything, and returned to our table to reassure us that there was nothing to worry about. Desperate to believe my friend, fear overtook me as a teacher burst into the library saying, “There are two boys with guns and bombs, shooting students, get under your tables, hide under your tables!” As she picked up the phone to call the police, I looked to the entrance again and noticed a wounded classmate run through the doors and stumble to the ground in horror. With that, Seth, Sara and I fumbled to take cover under our table. Almost instantly, Seth wrapped his arms around my head and body and whispered these words in my ear, “Crystal, I promise I will take a bullet for you!” Confident that my own death was imminent, I basically cried out to God, and promised I would give Him my life and quit doing bad things, if He got me out alive and gave me a second chance to live.
As I finished that prayer, I endured the worst seven and a half minutes of my entire life, when the two killers entered the room and began their killing rampage. I listened as they gunned down friends and classmates, laughing at them, mocking them and then ending their young lives in the most gruesome ways imaginable. Their voices were filled with an eerie excitement, as they continued weaving in and out of tables for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, they approached the middle section of the library (they had already killed students in the first and last sections), where I was hiding. My body was literally convulsing with the fear that penetrated every fiber of my body, the shock almost even caused me to wet my pants, but I was able to hold it together. At one point, I remember what felt like shrapnel hitting my legs (which was later confirmed when I returned to the library with FBI that a pipe bomb had exploded next to our table). I thought the most absurd thought to myself as I pulled my gum out of my mouth, “when I get shot, I don’t want to choke on my gum!” As I held my gum tightly, waiting for a sharp bullet to pierce my side, and waiting for death to come, the boys killed the young man just a few feet away from us, then turned to our table and pushed a chair underneath hitting me in the arm. I saw my life literally flash before my eyes, my past, my regrets, my hopes and dreams for the future slipping away and my family and friends who would never truly know my love for them, for I would never have the chance to tell them. Hardly, taking a breath, for fear of what the next second might hold, the two began talking about how they ran out of ammunition. They had to go reload (they left their ammo outside of the library) but made it clear they would return to kill the rest of us. At that moment, I was not thinking I could escape, because I didn’t want to leave the protection of my table. Seth then pulled Sarah I to our feet, and told us to leave everything behind, and run as fast as we could out of the library. I followed Seth through the smoke-filled room, and frantically looked around at the destruction the two left in the wake of their terror; it literally looked like a war had taken place. Shards of glass littered the floor, fires sprung up everywhere from the pipe bombs, the fire alarms continued to blare out the emergency, strobe lights were flashing, blood was splattered on the floor and walls, and I was forced to step over the bodies of my classmates so I could save myself. We finally escaped out of the school, outside an exit near the rear of the library, before the two killers came back to kill themselves. Students were shot at, running from the building, as we hid behind a police car, a few short yards from the school. We stayed there, until police could safely come and take all of us away (with an emphasis on the most wounded first). I was dropped off in a field behind the school, beneath Rebel Hill (named by cross country runners at CHS). I had been separated from Seth and Sara at this point, and was terrified that I was no longer safe anywhere. I hadn’t begun to process what I had just experienced, but I knew my life would never again be the same….
The days, weeks and months to follow were a painful blur, searching for answers to the question, “WHY?” It seemed like an endless stream of memorial services, and funerals of peers, friends and a beloved coach. Stories of heroism and bravery began to emerge from the tragedy, giving us small glimmers of hope in the darkness. I can’t say for certain, but after research and talking to people, we learned that our table, the one Seth, Sara and I hid under, was the only one or two out of twenty-some that didn’t have at least one student killed or injured. There was really no logical reason I should have lived through that experience, especially in light of knowing that the library was the scene of the most intense violence. Ten of the thirteen were killed in the same room where I was clinging to life, and some fourteen out of twenty-five were wounded there as well.
Our once quiet, safe, and innocent community was inundated by a barrage of media from around the world, and it felt like a good majority of them came knocking on my door. In retrospect, telling my story over and over again would prove to be cathartic for me, but it would also, enable me to begin sharing a message of hope to people in all circumstances. Not to mention become a voice against future violence in schools.
For many years, my emotions would run the gamut, and vary in severity. I experienced many emotions; ones I never even knew existed. To name a few, I have felt grief, confusion, rage, hopelessness, depression, doubt, guilt, shame, and for years a debilitating fear about many things. Every night for two solid years, I would relive the tragedy through threatening nightmares. I know it sounds miserable, but initially I desperately wished I had been one of the students killed that day. I questioned why I lived, and so many of my amazing classmates had to die. As far as I was considered, they were selfless, kind and loving people who sought to make their world a better place, while I simply lived a selfish life without leaving behind any kind of meaningful legacy. I became close with several of the families who lost loved ones, who continually inspired me to live my life despite all that had happened.
As I journeyed on, hopelessness turned to hope, pain into joy, weakness into strength, chaos into peace, and ashes became something beautiful (I don’t want to make it sound like this happened over night, or that it was an easy process, because it wasn’t). About a year after the tragedy, I allowed myself to forgive the two boys who had caused so much pain. I knew unforgiveness would only cause me to be a bitter, angry person, and that was not something I wanted my life to be characterized by. I had a sense of urgency to make the most of every single breath I was given and to live life to the fullest, no longer taking anything for granted. I knew there had to be more to life than all the things I once thought were so important. I wanted to change my life and help others. I learned a valuable lesson; that second chances rarely come around, and here I was given that chance. Although my desire was to impact the world, I had no idea where to begin….
How has the healing process been for you over the past ten years? Please
I had no idea how to bring about healing from such a life-changing tragedy, but I knew that my newfound faith in Jesus Christ would be paramount to the process. Personally, it was the only thing I had left when all else failed. As far as I am concerned, I am the person I am today because of the Lord’s love and faithfulness. He has used a variety of life experiences to widen my perspective on the world around me.
I have had the opportunity to travel around the world and even live abroad, where I have discovered time and again, people living in the most dismal situations I have ever witnessed. While my tragedy lasted seven and a half minutes under that table, people around the world are facing a tragedy twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week; theirs is a tragedy that will never end. Some face unimaginable horror during war, violence and natural calamity, while others suffer through poverty, hunger, lack of clean water and shelter. Some struggle with indescribable sickness and physical pain. Although it is not true for everyone, my awareness of the human condition in third world countries was vital in my healing process. Often times, when I was able to take my eyes off of my own misery and reach out to others during times of their affliction, I found life returning to my weary bones, the broken pieces of my heart mending and becoming whole again and glimmers of hope shining through the darkness.
At the end of 1999 I traveled to war-torn Kosovo, a short time after the war had drawn to a close. I saw a land ravished by war, hatred and revenge. I saw cities burned to the ground, I saw bombed out buildings and hospitals and met people who lost limbs because of land mines. I met children orphaned by the devastation of war, and heard endless accounts of the fear people endured for years. During my first trip to Kosovo I came in contact with a young girl named Donika who had lost her father and other family members during the war, and was forced to hide for weeks away from the enemy without food or water in the dead of winter, and then run for days to reach safety in another country. Immediately our hearts were connected by tragedy, and even to this day, Donika inspires me and has taught me that it’s ok to laugh, smile and live again.
I have lived throughout Central America, where there is a painful separation between the extremely wealthy and extremely impoverished. One could drive for miles on end and see nothing but an overwhelming amount of people living in shacks among wretched filth. One of my jobs was to build water purification systems so people could have the luxury of clean drinking water (a luxury only to people without clean water). I worked with a local man by the name of Paul. Every day Paul would ride his broken down bike to our plant, often wearing the same clothes as the previous day, and a smile stretching from ear to ear. One day we worked late and he asked us if we could give him a ride home, of course we agreed! We pulled into his village and up to his house to find his wife and two kids living in a tiny hut of corrugated steal and cardboard. His wife was selling a few small items of soda and chips out of the front window of the house, while two of his children, smudged with dirt and mud ran around without clothes, entertaining themselves with an old, moldy box. Paul taught me a lot that year, like how to be content with very little, how to find joy in an otherwise desperate situation and how to love ones family by doing whatever it takes to provide.
I also lived in Africa and visited several of times since. Once I went to Africa it changed everything. Living among people in the bush restored my faith in humanity and expanded my love for the outcasts. I knew I had to become a voice for those who didn’t have a voice in this world. I moved to Mozambique Africa with an NGO called Samaritan’s Purse. My objective was to teach woman and girls about the Bible and about AIDS prevention. After only a few short days, the women and children had reached in and grabbed a hold of my heart refusing to let go. I was so burdened by their plight, but also uplifted by the fact that they never gave into the oppression or hopelessness. When my friend Sianeta’s grass hut burned down, a community of people surrounded her with love and provided supplies until her house could be rebuilt.
When I would visit friends in the hospital, I knew the pain from the HIV/AIDS was excruciating, but they were concerned for me, and how I was doing more than themselves.
Every morning the sweet sound of children’s voices would beckon me to come outside and play, so if even just for a few minutes they could escape the hell that was their lives on a daily basis.
One of my friends Abdi would go to school and study many hours each day, seeking to achieve his goal to one day become a lawyer, but knowing his dream would never be realized because he lived in the middle of nowhere.
Each and every person taught me never to take anything for granted and to be thankful for the things I have.
My adventures to, Beslan Russia, after the terrorist attack against children, to Indonesia after the Tsunami, and to London to attend a peace conference between children of Northern Ireland are only a snapshot of my travels and the people I have met, but I carry every single story and person with me wherever I go, and it gives me strength to carry on when things get difficult. After each experience, I saw the ice that had formed over my heart start to melt away as I learned to feel again. Hope was restored and I had found a new purpose for my life.
In addition to my work abroad, I was starting to enjoy speaking and sharing my story in a variety of venues around the globe. Never once did I share for personal or financial gain, even though many have accused me of profiting off of my communities’ suffering. Every time another school shooting would happen, my heart would break all over again and it only increased my passion to see violence in schools come to an end so no one would have to face the inconceivable anguish. Speaking was therapeutic for me, but also seemed to be making an impact in the lives of the people I shared it with. Many doors flung wide open to speak more and more, so I decided to focus a little more on speaking as a career.
By 2002 I was on the road speaking full-time. Not to mention, I was a full-time student. Juggling my schedule was challenging, but completely worth it. I was speaking on my own in schools, churches, at luncheons and conferences. I was approached once again by Samaritan’s Purse who asked if I would like to become their national spokesperson for Operation Christmas Child (a project for less fortunate children). It was a perfect fit for me, so I spoke for them, and continued to do a little speaking of my own on the side. After several years with them, speaking and working overseas, my focus began to shift. For years I had dreamed of writing a book to tell my story, and I was given the chance in 2005. As I was writing my book, Marked for Life, another incredible opportunity dropped in my lap. I was called by the lead singer of a rock band and was asked to go on tour with them long term and share my story of survival and challenge in schools as they performed!
Needless to say, not only was my faith, my trips overseas and my speaking essential for my healing, but I also had an incredible support system with my family, friends and husband. I couldn’t be more blessed to have so many people who have walked this road with me. I do not know how people go through difficulties without a community walking beside them through good times and bad.
Update me on your professional life - what have you been doing over the
past ten years?
Over the years I have found myself in a career path that I never would have chosen for myself, but couldn’t be more excited about where that path has led me thus far. The past ten years I have been a relief worker, a speaker, an author and now a writer for a film company.
As a speaker, I have worked with many different organizations speaking on their behalf. Samaritan’s Purse and their children’s Christmas project called Operation Christmas Child. I have done some spokesperson work with Food for the Hungry, a child sponsorship organization, OneHope, and others. Along with rock band Vota (formerly Casting Pearls) we started the 180 Tour in schools around the United States as well as Germany and Switzerland.
Although I still do a lot of speaking, I have taken a step back from the demands of the road to focus on a documentary film called, Columbine Everywhere, the film includes my story along with other survivors from various school shootings around the world, as well as, those who have chosen to act violently. For the past year I have worked with EthnoGraphic Media, a company committed to raising awareness to issues that we all face on a global scale, calling young people to action in effort to seek change in our world. Columbine Everywhere will explore what is human in all of us. It will look at the causes of school shootings, and the choices we are faced with that shape our lives through hardship. I never would have imagined I would find myself in the film industry, let alone believe I was capable of writing a screenplay, yet somehow I find myself right in the middle of the learning process and loving every second of it! Throughout the last year, I have met many survivors from places around the U.S., Germany, Australia, Canada, Russia, and Finland. Their stories have given me strength and inspiration to keep fighting against the epidemic of school violence. Our company is now moving into the production phase of filming, and eager for a release in a couple years!
Describe your professional goals.
I would say that one of the most immediate goals I have for my professional life is to see the film, Columbine Everywhere finished and available to the public. In the process of writing and researching for Columbine Everywhere, I have also written a series of short films that I am looking to produce with a small independent filmmaker in Oklahoma City.
I would also love to continue writing in whatever capacity I can, as well as, continue to speak, but speak about more than just my experience at Columbine. I believe that I am more of who I am today because of what happened to me on April 20, 1999, but it doesn’t define me. I have a lot of things I am incredibly passionate about, and would love to use my platform and voice to speak that out. I would love to be an agent of change in regards to international affairs such as sex trafficking of young girls, AIDS, poverty and the need for clean water.
Although, I still do not believe that I am particularly gifted or extraordinary at anything, I do have dreams to continue on with my photography, and would eventually like to see my children’s books published.
I do not know what the future holds, but am excited to see what is next, because I have yet to experience a dull moment.
What I do know for certain, is that I am ready to see the Columbine chapter of my life come to a close. With the completion of Columbine Everywhere, I feel like it will be an exclamation point to a major life chapter, and allow me to move forward in new ways. Not to say I have been stuck in the past, but I can begin to do the other things on my heart.
Describe your work as a public speaker.
Life as a public speaker has always been very demanding of my time, but also incredibly rewarding which is what drives me and gives me the motivation to keep going even when my energy lacked and my body was physically weary. There have been days when I have spoke five or six times, one right after another, taking a huge mental, physical and emotional toll. Not to mention the endless airports, flights (along with delays and layovers), bus trips, and road trips on very little sleep. During the three years on the 180 Tour, I traveled with six sometimes twelve guys in a stinky tour bus speaking and playing in cities across the nation. Every morning we would wake up before the sun to unload heavy production gear into schools and other venues, and we wouldn’t rest until late at night. I would be one the road for weeks on end and come home and crash before it was time to pack up and do it all over again. I was away from Pete, my husband and found it difficult to invest in friendships and get involved in other things back home. I believe in 2007 I traveled over 200 some days throughout the year. It sounds rough, but I actually loved it and still love it. Yet, I believe in many ways I was making that lifestyle an identity and finding my value in what I did. Business and a successful career are not worth it if it comes at the cost of relationships between family and friends. Therefore, about a year ago, I decided to take a little break and rest at home for a little while and work on the film.
The 180 Tour was started by myself and Vota (formerly Casting Pearls) which was a non-violent, character building school assembly program primarily for junior high and high school students around the nation in public schools. Our aim was to inspire young people to change their world today! Our goal was to challenge them in their choices, their decision making, and open their eyes to realize that they have the potential to make a difference and it starts by the way they treat their fellow classmates. I would always challenge students to look for ways to reach out to their peers who were alone, outcast and ostracized in respect and kindness.
The venue and audience size would always vary depending upon where we were and what the specific objective of the event was. The 180 Tour was generally held in school auditoriums or large gymnasiums, to a range of audience sizes again dependant upon whether we were in the inner city, the burbs or out in the middle of nowhere. Apart from the 180 Tour I have done a lot of random engagements (it’s seriously funny how many groups and clubs seek out guest speakers), from churches, to retreats, youth camps, leadership events, boys and girls clubs, business meetings, conferences, luncheons and festivals. For example I have spoken and even emceed at several outdoor music festivals during the summer months, which range anywhere from 7,000 to 15,000 people. My favorite events are in conjunction with music because I always think it makes the message well rounded and appealing to young people.
Why do you choose to speak to audiences about your experience?
I desire to see young people go through their high school career, not just physically unscathed by violence, but also able to think for themselves, act for themselves, know who they are and what they believe in, and have a strong sense of right and wrong. I want students to understand how their actions day in and day out are simply the building blocks for who they will become in the future. Therefore I want them to be aware of how each action affects not only them, but everyone around them, and how character is what counts. I believe in young people, and they need to hear that message. They need to know that people believe in them, and that they have value and worth, beyond just being a good student, athlete, artist, or musician. I believe that all young people are in search of acceptance and are crying out to be noticed. If it takes traveling all over the globe to share how we care for them and believe in their ability to live positively, then perhaps it will prevent people from feeling alone, isolated, angry and bent on destruction in order to be heard.
I also have a passion to speak to young people because I know there are students listening who have been broken down and beaten up by the world around them. I know there are a lot of students who were just like the two killers at Columbine who are picked on and made fun of daily, who are angry and alone. I know there are students who have difficult family situations and feel hopeless. Many are seeking a solution to their pain and problems, and I want them to know they have a purpose and that there are other ways to solve their problems apart from acting violently. I want students to understand, that they need to be who they are and make no apologies for being different, but live confidently in who they were destined to become. It really makes me sad that the two boys at Columbine did what they did, but I can also see how a person can come to the edge and feel like there is no other option. I have been in touch with some shooters of other school massacres to try to understand them, and what I have found is that these young kids are human too. In most cases, they regret what they have done and want to stop others from making the same mistakes.
I share to inspire and to bring a solid message of hope and a future. I believe I was entrusted with a story and have the responsibility to steward it in a way that changes people, even if it only impacts one person, I have done my job.
What messages do you try to convey?
Simply put- HOPE! I always want to convey a message of hope to people regardless of their circumstances, whether people experience a form of violence, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the betrayal of a friend, an unfair boss, an unfaithful spouse, an illness, or abuse. I want people to know that hope is a choice, and it takes a conscious effort to choose it over the looming hopelessness and overwhelming odds. Likely many will never experience school violence, but will in some form or another experience tragedy that will shake them to the core, and it’s not their tragedy that defines them, but their response. I don’t ever want to see anyone crushed under the weight of their circumstances by becoming a victim- I want people to rise above and survive and choose triumph!
After you speak, what do you hope audiences walk away thinking?
I don’t care whether or not anyone remembers me, I’m not in this for personal fame or wealth- I hope that when people stare into the face of suffering that they will eventually recognize there is always a silver lining. I know it may sound idealistic, but I believe it and must choose to continually believe that, because we live in a world where a lot of painful things happen. Columbine wasn’t the last difficult thing that happened in my life and I won’t let destruction, pain, hatred and anger win the day.
How have audiences reacted to your messages?
I have received an array of different reactions from my message, a few who responded with negativity and criticism and the majority who respond in amazement and determination to take action in their own spheres of influence. Whenever I am done speaking I am flooded by students who share their heart wrenching stories about being bullied and picked on, about their situations at home and their experiences growing up. I have had some students confess that they have dreamed and even planned on doing something similar at their school, but after hearing my story wouldn’t dream of causing such pain to others. I have had many students experience a wake up call and an opportunity turn their lives around before it was too late. Some have opened up to share that they were suicidal, they were cutters, and they were depressed. While others have sought to make better choices. Some of my favorite stories are about young kids who take ownership and responsibility for their actions and strive to make their schools a better place for all.
Describe a meaningful or memorable moment that stands out to you that
was a result of speaking?
I would say that there are three really memorable stories that come to mind when I think about my travels over the last few years.
The first, is about a junior high girl in Alabama who emailed me after I spoke at her school and told me that she was deeply impacted by what I shared and vowed to change her life. She said she was a popular cheerleader at her school and had her own clique of friends and never thought it was important to reach out to people who were different then her. In fact, she told me that she had a bad habit of making fun of people and gossiping about them. Everyone wanted to gain this girls approval, so they would follow her example. After hearing me speak, she said she realized that she could use her popularity to make a positive difference at her school. In fact, she started doing small things that made a huge difference. Sitting with students who ate alone in the cafeteria, holding the door open for others, saying kind things to people, choosing to not gossip, and making friends with outcasts. Once again her friends started to follow her example and soon enough, she said it was actually making her school a better place.
The second memorable experience is when I was asked to travel to Beslan Russia and speak to the community and survivors of those who endured a three-day terrorist attack at their school in 2004. I was heartbroken when I heard of the tragedy and desperately wanted to go to comfort the people there. I never, ever believe I need to go somewhere because I have something people need to hear, in fact, school violence leaves me speechless. However, I do feel the need wrap my arms around suffering people, be an ear to listen and be a shoulder to cry on. I was given that opportunity a few months after the attack, and met many young children. I went to a cemetery with one of the survivors to visit the grave of her younger brother who died during the siege. I remember just sitting there as she wept and wondered if she would ever experience happiness and joy again. She brought me gifts to thank me for coming, which absolutely floored me. She made a much more profound impact on my life then I believe I could have ever made on hers.
The last experience was when I traveled to Virginia after the deadliest shooting this nation has ever seen at Virginia Tech. I was sitting outside of Norris Hall where 30 people died when a student came and sat near me. I started talking with her and she told me she had lost friends and was still in shock that something like this could happen on their quiet VT campus. She asked why a Columbine survivor would come all that way for them and was so thankful I there. The two of us shared a few moments crying together as I prayed for her and everyone on campus.
About your book.
Title: Marked for Life: Choosing Hope and Discovering Purpose After Earth-Shattering Tragedy
I really love the title Marked for Life- because, I believe it truly captures the journey I have been on for ten years. I once believed that I would forever be marked by disappointment, failure, pain, tragedy and the belief of being average. However, after walking through an incremental process of healing, I realized that my life would instead be marked by hope, joy, love, peace, forgiveness and purpose- for as long as I am given breath to live.
Co-authors: Ashley Wiersma
When was it published? 2006
How long did it take to write? One year
How many have sold so far and where can it be purchased?
I have no idea how many books have been sold, I get updates from my publisher, but never have been able to make sense of all the numbers, and I really don’t care. My concern is that people are impacted by it, not how well it does. It can be found at Barnes and Noble, Borders, Amazon.com, Mardel and my website.
Do the profits go to any charities?
The profits from my book do not go to any charities, but all the money (which isn’t a ton) go back into my ministry which supports several charities. For example, about a year ago, I designed two different t-shirts that could be sold to benefit hungry children through and organization called, Food for the Hungry.
Describe the main messages and plot of the book.
Marked for Life, is a biography, illustrating my life prior to the events at Columbine, the actual day of April 20, 1999 and the events that followed. I describe some of the things that were helpful in my personal healing process, as well as, sharing the stories of several people I have met along the way in my travels, who have given me courage to stay the course when things got difficult. It also challenges people to go out and make their mark on their world.
The book begins when I was in Beslan Russia, and follows me around the world, ending in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, a short time after the Tsunami. I wrote the book as a Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ, because for me, that is the lens through which I see the world.
Why did you decide to write it?
It was a dream come true for me to write this book. In fact, many times I had tried, but ran into so many closed doors and opposition along the way, that I had given up on that dream. However, after several years, a literary agent approached me and worked hard on my behalf to enable me to share the story with the world.
I had been speaking for several years at this point, and wanted to tell the others parts of my story that I was never able to share with a crowd of people in a thirty to forty-five minute presentation. My goal was that people would find encouragement in their own circumstances and that they would flip to the last page of my book, with new resolve and determination to impact their world in a positive way.
What sorts of reactions have you received from readers?
I have received very positive feedback from people who have read my book. Countless times, I have received emails and messages from people who found great comfort in my book and thanked me for my vulnerability and honesty by putting my life down on paper. I have seen people get behind my book and support me by buying cases for their co-workers friends and even volunteers within their organizations.
I have spent an extensive amount of time in Germany and a publisher in Germany got a hold of my book and worked hard to translate it and make it available in their country. The German title of my book is, Ich Dachte, Mein Leben ist Vorbei: Wie der Amoklauf von Littleton eine junge Frau veranderte. The Germans have been incredibly generous and loyal people as they have embraced both this story and me. It has been especially interesting how I have been receiving several emails in the last few days from people affected by the recent shooting (March 11, 2009) at a local high school. Some have read the book and others know me from spending time there, either way, people are seeking comfort during this difficult time, and I am thankful they can call on me to walk beside them.
I believe that even if one person is touched by my story, then I accomplished my goal in writing this book.
What do you want readers to take from it?
I want readers to be encouraged, filled with hope and challenged to reach out to the downtrodden, ostracized, hurting and broken wherever they may be. I want people to rise above their circumstances and become better and stronger people, who don’t curse their suffering, but view it as beauty marks they carry with them into a promising future.
Have you seen any changes as a result of your book or does a personal
response from a reader stand out at all?
Often times, people share their stories of struggle and survival, after reading my book. One woman in particular, shared a story about her son who was murdered by a person who was never caught. Over the years she has walked through an array of emotions and have sought answers to her questions. She said that Marked for Life, captured suffering in a way no other book she has read was able to do. She said that this book touched her deeply and was recommending it to everyone she knew.
Has Columbine influenced your careers goals at all?
Columbine influenced my career goals on every level, even though I never intended for it to be that way. When I was in high school I was convinced that I was going to be an elementary school teacher. By the time I graduated high school I had already hundreds of hours in schools working as a teacher’s aide. I loved the idea of pouring into young people and inspiring them to learn. I went to college and began pursuing my teaching degree. I got through two years and virtually completed the entire course, just shy of student teaching, when my course of direction changed drastically. By my sophomore year of college, I had already been speaking and traveling overseas a considerable amount, and had decided I wanted to pursue relief work and speaking. Ultimately I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in ministry leadership, which further enabled me to continue what I had come to know and love. I never, ever envisioned becoming a full-time motivational speaker, an author, or a screenplay writer at a film company.
One minor regret is how I was forced to grow up incredibly quick. While most of my classmates and friends were off enjoying their college years, I was living like an adult with my career underway. I lost touch with friends from high school and attended a college where hardly any of my friends went, so that was a little bit sad.
Did you have any reservations about writing about Columbine?
Yes and no. It seemed so natural to write about something that affected me so deeply, but at the same time, I wanted to be very careful about honoring the victims, the survivors and my old schoolmates. I didn’t want to offend anyone by my thoughts and perspective, but also rested in the fact, that each and every person deals with such a tragedy in their own way, and for me, writing this book was a way to deal with the events of my personal life, in which Columbine played a big part.
How did Columbine affect you spiritually?
Spiritually everything changed during and after the events at Columbine. Prior to the massacre, I would have called myself a Christian, a person of faith, but so often, my life did not reflect that. I made a lot of poor choices, ones I’m not necessarily proud of. I had this deep emptiness that I was trying to fill, but no matter how hard I tried, I felt empty, and more alone. Yet, under the table in the library, as I literally stared death in the face, I realized that there was so much more to life then what I once valued. Everything I had tried had failed me and I was still searching. I knew that whether I had ten seconds or ten years left to live, that my life had to be about something more. I knew something existed that could fill that emptiness, and from my background in the evangelical church and people within my extended family, I knew that true life was found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Therefore, I cried out and vowed that I would quit doing all the things I was doing and completely give my life to God. Although to some, faith seems intangible and pointless, but for me, I found my comfort, and hope in the Lord who was more real and present in that moment, and since, then anything that was physically going on around me. After escaping the library, my faith in the Lord was the One thing that sustained me through the days, weeks and months to follow. I was angry with God and couldn’t understand why He had allowed something so terrible to happen to my friends and I. It didn’t seem right, but I was comforted by the fact, that the Lord’s heart broke even more than my own over the situation. I know that I live in a broken world with broken people, who have the freedom of will to commit such acts, but I also knew from experience that this life is short in comparison to eternity. After the events at Columbine, I found comfort in the Bible and discovered so many truths that gave me a hope and a foundation to rebuild my life upon. My relationship with the Lord has never been and never will be about a religion based on rules and laws, but everything to do with a unconditional and lavishly loving God who can relate with my suffering and give me strength to walk through my days. Over the years my understanding and perspective about spiritual matters has evolved as I have grown and witnessed the world around me, but my faith in Jesus still remains the single most important thing in my life.
Had Columbine not happened, how would you be different, personally and
Many times I have asked myself this very question, “how would my life have been different had I not been at Columbine,” and each time I realize it’s next to impossible to answer, because I can never turn back time or change what happened to me. Although I wished life could be restored to the way it was before Columbine, I am thankful of the person I have become. I have grown in compassion toward people in all circumstances, although I still tend to be an incredibly selfish person at times, I really seek to live in a way that reaches out to those in need. I think I have become a stronger person with a deeper sense of character and purpose. I am confident in who I am and what I believe. I have a family who loves me, a husband who couldn’t be more loving and supportive and close friends who love me for who I am, not because I’m a Columbine speaker, and an author.
Looking around at the world today, what changes (positive OR negative)
do you see as a result of Columbine?
Well, unfortunately Columbine has become synonymous with school violence, and in many ways it began what can be described as an epidemic. More and more students see violence as a way to solve their problems without seeking the help they need. On the flip side, however, Columbine has been the start of a lot of positive things as well. Programs such as the 180 Tour have begun to inform and inspire young people. We have seen schools change the way they train teachers and prepare students. We know that since Columbine threats and warning signs are no longer ignored and emergency personnel have also better equipped themselves to handle such events. Many schools have begun once again to emphasize the importance of character education and community involvement. Groups within government have formed to do their part in ending violence on national and local levels. People recognize the problem goes deeper than an issue of metal detectors and school uniforms, yet unfortunately it has caused other rather extreme people to seek out methods, such as arming teachers.
All in all, we would do anything to have the thirteen who were killed on April 20, 1999 back in our lives, therefore, many work tirelessly in effort to see that we never again loose anymore innocent lives in our schools.
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