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The Rebels Project (TRP) held their 2nd Annual Survivor Gathering July 28-July 29 in Colorado. Survivors from over ten different mass tragedy communities from across the United States gathered to connect, share, encourage, and inspire each other.

Through fundraising efforts, TRP was able to fly in five survivors from outside of Colorado. Visiting Rebels stayed at the Holiday Inn-SW Littleton who generously donated rooms for the weekend. The first event was a Happy Hour on Friday evening at Sportsbook Bar & Grill where survivors had the opportunity to socialize and ‘let their hair down’ in an environment where everyone understood what they have experienced. This is a rare, unique experience for survivors of mass tragedy. Sarah Maldonado, a survivor of the 2012 Azana Salon mass shooting in Wisconsin, expressed “I love the support of other people who have been through similar situations. It’s comforting and makes me feel a great sense of ‘normal’”.

Saturday, July 29, began with a visit to the Columbine Memorial and a mindful yoga class led by Laurie Ann Works, survivor of the 2007 YWAM/New Life Church mass shooting, in Robert F. Clement Park. Laurie Ann lost her two sisters in the Colorado Springs shooting and has used yoga for her healing journey. She has since become a yoga instructor who focuses on resilience and is dedicated to assisting others on their healing journeys.

Later that afternoon Survivors gathered for a luncheon at Meridian Golf Club. Coni Sanders, who lost her father in the 1999 Columbine shooting, delivered an inspirational message focused on grieving in your own way. Her message reminded survivors that everyone grieves differently and to be mindful not to judge our own or anyone else’s grieving process.   

The Survivor Gathering wrapped up on Saturday evening with a ‘Pizza-Q’ in Littleton, CO. Survivors attended with their families to enjoy pizza, play games, and continue socializing. It was the perfect ending to an eventful weekend.

Beer, Cheer and Finding Peace

Join the Columbine community and The Rebels Project as we host a raffle and silent auction on Black Friday to help support the ongoing maintenance and repairs of the Columbine memorial. A portion of funds raised will go towards supporting and connecting survivors of mass tragedy across the nation.

When: November 25, 2016 (Black Friday)

Where: A Columbine alumni-owned establishment:

Resolute Brewery: 7286 S. Yosemite St. #110, Centennial, CO 80112

Time: 6pm-8pm (raffle and silent auction)


Please contact Zachary Cartaya or Heather Egeland for more information:

The Rebels Project was formed by Columbine survivors in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting to help provide support from people who had experienced a similar trauma. Since conception, we have reached out to survivors from across the country.
Our members offer varied unique experiences and can relate to each other in a way that is invaluable to the ongoing healing process. Here are some words of hope to other survivors –

Please donate to The Rebels Project to help us continue our work.

Virginia Tech
Aurora theater shooting
Azana Spa shooting in Wisconsin
Heath High School
Chardon High School
Washington Navy Yard
New Life Church (Colorado Springs, CO)
Umpqua Community College
Sparks Middle School
Renown Hospital shooting
Cedarville Rancheria
Cokeville Elementary Hostage and Bombing
Accent Signage shooting
Tucson, AZ shooting

With the upcoming 20/20 Special with Sue Klebold a lot of Columbine survivors have been speaking up and sharing their thoughts within our community. One thing that comes up is the inaccuracy and manipulation of previous “Special Reports” through out the years. Something that caught my eye while discussing this with others today, was an open letter a survivor of the Columbine shooting who is now in a wheel chair received from Sue and Tom Klebold. She wrote this post on her Facebook page and it was something that I wanted to share because it makes me think about what happened to us Columbine Survivors, but it also makes me think about how I myself, feel about the parents of the Dylan and Eric.

Anne Marie

Dear Sue Klebold,
I was injured at Columbine High School in 1999. As you know, your son Dylan, and his classmate, Eric Harris, killed 13 people and then themselves. You are releasing a book called, “A Mother’s Reckoning”, and are appearing tomorrow on the TV program 20/20 to talk about what happened and what your son did. I have only two instances to form an opinion on you and they are as follows:

1. You and your husband wrote me a letter a few months after I was paralyzed saying how sorry you were. It was genuine and personal. The Harris letter, on the other hand, was four sentences long on a folder up piece of paper, and was cold and robotic. To refresh your memory, it read like this:
“Dear Anne Marie,
Our prayers have been with you each day as we read about the terrible ordeal you and your family have experienced. We read that you had been transferred to Craig Hospital, and we were so thankful that you had progressed to the point where you could enter a rehabilitation facility. Though we have never met, our lives are forever linked through this tragedy that has brought unspeakable heartbreak to our families and our community. With deepest humility we apologize for the role our son, Dylan, had in causing the suffering you and your family have endured. Your recovery process will be a long and difficult road, and we hope that the support of people all over the world will help you find strength and courage as you meet the many challenges you have yet to face. When we read reports of your progress, we marvel at your resolve. It is still terribly difficult for us to believe that the son we knew could play a role in causing harm to you and others. The reality that he shared in the responsibility for this senseless tragedy is beyond our comprehension. We offer our love, support, and service as you and your family work to gain control over your lives. May God watch over you during your recovery process and beyond. May each day bring you successes, however small, that bring you hope and encouragement.
Sue and Tom Klebold

2. I was contacted by ABC to comment for the 20/20 special and they told me that any proceeds from your book (aside from publisher’s costs) will go to helping those with mental illness. Six months after Columbine happened, my mother, Carla, committed suicide. She was already suffering from depression so the shootings didn’t directly cause her to do what she did, but it certainly didn’t help. It means a lot to me that you wouldn’t keep those proceeds for yourself, but to help others that suffer from mental illness.

I think it’s appropriate that the program that you are appearing on is named “20/20”. Hindsight is truly 20/20 and I’m sure you have agonized over what you could have done differently. I know, because I do the same thing with trying to think of ways I could have prevented my mother’s death. I have no ill-will towards you. Just as I wouldn’t want to be judged by the sins of my family members, I hold you in that same regard. It been a rough road for me, with many medical issues because of my spinal cord injury and intense nerve pain, but I choose not to be bitter towards you. A good friend once told me, “Bitterness is like swallowing a poison pill and expecting the other person to die.” It only harms yourself. I have forgiven you and only wish you the best.

Anne Marie Hochhalter

Card Front

Card Open


One of the things I have often heard from other survivors is that they had no idea we existed. However, once they join our group they feel immediate relief that someone understands what they are going through. The beauty of The Rebels Project is that we have so many members; each with their own story and unique perspective, so once someone joins, they are able to find someone who they can connect with. Unfortunately, these connections are usually forged over the internet. We aim to raise funds to bring survivors together so they can meet in person, so they can deepen those instant bonds that will last a lifetime and keep them from feeling alone during dark times.

Please help us connect survivors by donating to our cause.

For the past two summers The Rebels Project has hosted a meetup that included survivors from Columbine High School, Aurora Movie Theater, Washington Navy Yard, Azana Spa, and teens from Newtown, Connecticut.

The group began the meetups at the Columbine Memorial and proceeded to have dinner at a local restaurant. These meetups have been rich opportunities to share hugs, stories, and encouragement. Planning for larger events which will include more survivors is in process! Meeting up physically is energizing, encouraging and helpful in the healing/recovery process.

My friend Michelle and I recently went to a slam poetry workshop which included Columbine Survivors, Aurora Theatre survivors, and Arapahoe High School survivors. We weren’t sure how many people would show up, if anyone would be willing to write, nor how we were going to react.

We sat in a coffee shop at a long table. On one end were the Arapahoe students and a few teachers, and on the other were Columbine graduates and Aurora community members.  The Rebels Project has been meeting once a month in Aurora for over a year now, so we are like family. I’m not sure how it was for our Aurora friends, but as I sat at that long wooden table as the coffee machines crushed and ground various beans in the other room, I felt…dazed and shaken. I couldn’t figure it out.  I’ve been meeting and talking with other survivors for almost two years now, why is this meeting affecting me this way?


Michelle filled me in on her thoughts:

We were staring across the table into a time warp.  This was us 14 years ago. Sometimes I can’t believe how long it has been…

And so the conversation began. We all introduced  ourselves and explained why we were there.  Almost everyone was there to write, and even though I’m an English teacher I was hesitant to write.  What would I say?  How on Earth could I focus on just one thing?  Half of these people were strangers to me and, basically, I was scared. And all while my emotions were in some kind of turmoil that I couldn’t get a handle on…

It turned out it was easier than I thought. We had about an hour long conversation where  we shared thoughts, stories, and feelings. I won’t detail our conversation, but I will say that one of the most moving things  I experienced was after I shared a personal story about hearing a fire alarm for the first time after the shootings.  I’ve told that story before, hoping to prepare others for times when a memory triggers an uncontrollable reaction, but what moved me was one of the Arapahoe students simply saying:

“thank you for sharing that” and I saw that she truly meant it. I saw understanding in her eyes, and the nods from around the table.

I immediately felt comforted.  I was among friends and family.  I was in a safe space where others would understand my confusion, my emotions, my turmoil. There are others out there, and even though the “You are Not Alone” motto has been the driving force behind all the community outreach we do, sometimes a simple reminder can make all the difference in the world.  We are a family of survivors and here is what I wrote during our 30 minute writing time:


How Can You Sit on That Bench?

(Title credits go to Jovan Mays and the Arapahoe student who asked that question)

How can you sit on that bench?  Do you know what happened there? Yes, yes, I’m sure you’ve heard about what happened there, but do you know what happened there?

I do.  I know it all the time.  I know what it feels like to know death is coming; booming down the halls. I know what it feels like to look for exits everywhere I go, and what it feels like to have some long-forgotten memory trigger emotions that I don’t feel like explaining…even though  I have to because I love you and I want you to understand when I tell you “I can’t do this right now. I’m sorry”

How can you go grocery shopping, go out to dinner, hang out with friends?

How can you smile or breathe?

But the normalcy is so soothing. It’s not a big deal and I’m good and I don’t want to talk about it and I just want to go on with life.  Just leave me alone with my Bruce Springsteen albums and I’ll be fine. If I want to talk about it, I will.

Oh how I wish now I had talked about it more…or even better, written about it.  I’d like to go back and see what I was like.

The memories are so fragmented.  And every once in a while, one pops up at the most inopportune time. And I find myself (again) saying “I’m sorry.”

I’m not broken and I don’t need to be fixed.  I am me and this is me, but please take all of me into consideration when I ask, “how can you sit on that bench?”