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?”
For the 15th anniversary Jennifer and I did an interview with a very understanding journalist by the name of Jon Schuppe. We think he did a wonderful job detailing how The Rebels Project was started, and though the focus is on the class of ’99, and how the theme of “you are not alone” is very prevalent. Please take the time to read about us!
On Sunday April 20th it was 15 years since the tragedy at Columbine happened. 15 years seems like such a long time but to some, memories do now fade and feelings come rushing back like raging rivers. Fellow student Sam Granillo started a project a few years ago called Columbine: Wounded Minds doing a documentary talking to Columbine survivors as well as other people affected by mass violence and tragedy.
On the 15th Anniversary of Columbine Sam took off on a journey with the help of Dateline NBC to visit other schools touched by the hand of violence. We applaud Sam on his continued growth, determination, and strive to not only help himself but help others. We at the Rebels Project are proud to be apart of his journey.
The Avielle Foundation is a non-profit based out of Newtown, CT and was named after Avielle Richman, one of the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT. The Avielle Foundation is hosting a 5K event at Clement Park here in Littleton, CO on August 25th, 2013 and has asked The Rebels Project and Phoenix 999 to partner with them. Jeremy Richman will be participating in the run and would like to extend his gratitude to the Colorado community for their support.
The Rebels Project is partnered with and supported by Phoenix 999, a non-profit made up of Columbine survivors. The Rebels Project is the main partner of their community outreach program. Any financial needs The Rebels Project has, Phoenix 999 works to provide it.
The Rebels Project will play a big part in volunteering and helping spread the word amongst our Rebel family, Columbine community, Aurora family, and others who follow our mission. Remember that when the hype goes away and the media moves on, there are still survivors that need your ongoing support. Here in Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia, Ohio, and countless other communities that have been affected by mass tragedy the rebuilding process continues. We are all bonded together forever and The Rebels Project and Phoenix 999 along with The Avielle Foundation share a vision of hope and healing. Please join us Sunday August 25th, 2013 and show your support by donating to the silent auction, volunteering, participating, or even by helping us spread the word.
You can make a difference.
To participate in the event or get more detailed information, please visit: http://www.aviellefoundation.org/events/brainstorming5k/
If you or someone you love is having a hard time coping with the effects of mass tragedy, please visit The Rebels Project: Support for Those in Need Facebook page and ask to join this private group.
Stop by Phoenix999.org and read up on their mission statement and efforts.
Thank you for taking the time to visit our site,
Co-founder of The Rebels Project and Phoenix 999 Board member
It’s always weird for me to call it an anniversary. When I think of anniversaries I think of happy occasions. But my first anniversary after Columbine was a hard one. The whole week leading up to April 20th was full of special reports, asinine interviews, and anything else they could pollute the airwaves with. Not something I wanted to watch but it saturated the airwaves so much you couldn’t stay away from all of it. News media today seems a little better but we never really had to deal with social media which is an animal on its own.
I worked at a call center here in Littleton and it was definitely a different day I guess you can say. Headed to work feeling depressed knew I was holding on by a thread but calling in and sitting at home just didn’t seem like the right choice either. I walked into work said hi to a few people and sat down at my computer and logged in, definitely not my usual self. Not 5min later before I could take my first call one of my supervisors came over to me asked me to go into project (clocking hours but not taking calls) he wanted to talk to me. I did what he said and we head over to a private interview office and sat down. All it took was four words, “How are you doing?” and I completely broke down. My supervisor was a very good guy, he listened to me didn’t give me any of his thoughts or theories which was extremely common. Was just a friend there for me, he asked a few questions to basically clear up the lies the media spun but that was it.. Afterwords he sent me back to my desk still pretty much a wreck to log out and sent me home on a paid day off. Sitting at home being depressed just seemed like a bad choice so I went home grabbed my camera gear and spent the rest of the day lost in the woods shooting pictures. Fairly therapeutic day spent a lot of the time just relaxing.
I can’t tell you how to best deal with the flood of emotions or lack there of, everyone is different and some people I know it was just another day. Just don’t be ashamed to unplug from the world and take a personal day, your own well being is very important. Remember there are people who understand what you are going through and are here for you if you need it.
Since the 1 year anniversary of the Aurora Shooting is fast approaching, we wanted to repost an interview that we gave after the Newtown shooting regarding the healing process and what we have learned and are still learning years later.
Hi everyone 🙂 At previous meetings we have discussed the various anxious feelings that are encountered by an approaching anniversary. I found an online article that addresses, albeit impersonally, some of the feelings that many of us experience and I wanted to share. The highlights are:
APA offers the following coping strategies to help people through traumatic anniversaries:
Recognize and acknowledge feelings you may experience. Understand that your feelings are part of the recovery process.
Find healthy ways to cope with your distress. Share memories and feelings with someone you trust or just spend time with friends and family. Activities that allow your mind to focus on something other than these memories are a good coping strategy for some people. Contemplative activities like reading, thinking or just taking a walk are also a good approach.
Avoid reactions that become part of the problem such as drinking or using drugs.
Engage in an activity that honors lost loved ones. You may want to plant a tree in their memory, make a donation to their favorite charity, participate in activities your loved one would have enjoyed or share happy memories with others. Consider volunteering; you may find that helping others actually helps you.
Use your support system. Reach out to friends and family. Don’t isolate yourself.
To read the entire article, go to the following website: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/anniversary.aspx
A few weeks ago Heather Egeland, Jennifer Hammer, and Paula Reed sat down with a reporter from Newtown, CT. He was working on a story called “Lessons from Columbine” they covered a variety of tough subjects ranging from how to move forward, what to do with the school etc… He also met with a few other people in our Rebel family. Check out the rest of this blog to see the week long series.
Part I Interview with Frank DeAngelis
The first interview with Frank DeAngelis aired 2-4-2013. I am posting the link on here so that you can all watch it if you want. I will post the links each day so that you are able to see the whole story.
Part II Interview with Parents and Survivors
Eyewitness News sat down with everyone from the parents of survivors and victims to the teachers who were inside Columbine High School during the shootings to the principal and law enforcement.
Part III Interview with The Rebels Project
Interviews with Paula Reed, Jennifer Hammer, and Heather Egeland about the healing process and how counseling is a process that takes many years.
Part IV Interview with First Responders
Something we have seen since Columbine is the First Responders (Police, Paramedics, ER Doctors) are often forgotten. People concentrate on the victims so much that they don’t realize that the First Responders are affected by the tragedy and carry what they saw for the rest of their lives.
How much do we really know about PTSD? Here is what we all already know…
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be an extremely debilitating condition that can occur after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.
But somethings that you may not know are…
- People can often smell things related to their trauma even in their nightmares. It can also cause physical health problems. Some feel pain from injuries they no longer have.
- The symptoms of PTSD can be very disruptive. You may feel constantly on edge or as if danger is lurking around every corner. You may feel cut-off from people and your own feelings. You may have difficulties concentrating or find that you get angry at the drop of a hat.
- PTSD can develop at any age, including in childhood. Symptoms typically begin within 3 months of a traumatic event, although occasionally they do not begin until years later. Once PTSD occurs, the severity and duration of the illness varies. Some people recover within 6 months, while others suffer much longer.
Here are some things that might help you figure out whats going on…
Symptoms of PTSD fall into three main categories:
- 1. Repeated “reliving” of the event, which disturbs day-to-day activity
- Flashback episodes, where the event seems to be happening again and again
- Recurrent distressing memories of the event
- Repeated dreams of the event
- Physical reactions to situations that remind you of the traumatic event
- 2. Avoidance
- Emotional “numbing,” or feeling as though you dont care about anything
- Feelings of detachment
- Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
- Lack of interest in normal activities
- Less expression of moods
- Staying away from places, people, or objects that remind you of the event
- Sense of having no future
- 3. Arousal
- Difficulty concentrating
- Exaggerated response to things that startle you
- Excess awareness (hypervigilance)
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Sleeping difficulties
You also might feel a sense of guilt about the event (including “survivor guilt”), and the following symptoms, which are typical of anxiety, stress, and tension:
- Agitation, or excitability
- Feeling your heart beat in your chest (palpitations)
A group of survivors of the Columbine High School shooting are teaming up to help survivors of the Aurora theater tragedy by setting up local meetings to offer support and counseling.
“We want them to know that they’re not alone and we want to be a listening ear for them, because we’ve been through it,” said Heather Egeland, a Columbine survivor and one of the founders of The Rebels Project.
The group has hosted two meetings, hosting survivors of the shooting, and sharing their different experiences.
“One of the biggest things that we’ve discovered is that when Columbine happened, we were just kind of all together and we had a family,” said Jennifer Hammer. “But these guys didn’t have one, they were just basically strangers — So we want to reach out and be their family.”
“Its something none of these people should’ve gone through,” said Andrea Whitt, whose two daughters were both at the Century Theater during the shooting.
“They are just having a little trouble adjusting and I thought it would be nice for them to talk to someone who went through something similar at the same age,” said Whitt. “It’s helped me as well, I’ve been able to ask them what I should do to help my daughters and what I shouldn’t do.”
The next meeting, which is also open to the public, is October 24th.