“I saw a spirit of heroism rise up from what appeared to be regular teenagers in the Columbine library, students who helped each other escape with little to no thought about their own personal safety.”
Over My Shoulder, Chapter 5

People were escaping for freedom, and I was lying critically injured in a pool of blood, somehow still breathing after surviving seven minutes of the worst school shooting of the time. But, I couldn’t get to my feet to run. My classmates were fleeing as I called for help. That’s when a boy, who I didn’t know, knelt down to pull me to my feet. Details of our escape are detailed in my memoir, Over My Shoulder, but this is the story of meeting up with my teenage hero twenty years after we first ‘met’.

Craig Scott and I were reunited last month at the 20th Columbine Memorial Anniversary event in Littleton. We shared a hug, the same kind of hug we shared at a few of the earlier anniversary events following the shooting. These are not normal hugs between strangers. Wrapped in these hugs is a deep knowing and understanding about things only those of us who were in the library on April 20, 1999 experienced. For me, each hug is a ‘thank you’ to Craig; the simplest offering of gratitude for his willingness to stop running for his own life to help save mine. It was after this hug that Craig and I set plans to have breakfast together a few days later.

Sitting across from each other, sipping coffee and waiting for our pancakes, Craig and I finally had the chance to get to know one another. Of course, we already knew so much…we had both survived Columbine, we had both endured very difficult twenty year journeys since that day, we had both struggled with healing emotionally, we both knew we survived for a reason, we both knew our conversation at the table would hold a lot of emotion and maybe result in a new level of healing for our hearts.

Craig and I have both told our stories in front of crowds for many years. (He now shares with www.value-up.org) But, that’s different. It took twenty years to sit across from the boy (now man) who helped to save me. We spent an hour recalling our own memories of that day, memories that cannot be drafted into the sentences of a book. Smells, the tones of voices, our internal thoughts that only make sense to us, the miraculous rush of life-saving adrenalin, etc. There something so sacred and validating about hearing these details from someone else who was there, hiding under a table only a few feet from where I was hiding. He KNOWS. I have told of my experience for twenty years, but only in that moment, sitting across from Craig, did I feel like someone gets it.

I could have sat with Craig for hours. The conversation was heavy, but necessary. I can’t speak for him, but I needed to share my recollection of that day with Craig, and hear his. I needed to tell him ‘thank you’ one more time. I left the restaurant that morning feeling encouraged. Now our story can continue in a new way. We both have a passion for bringing good out of the horrible situation we survived. We both want to spend our future conversations together laughing instead of crying, and encouraging each other in the surprising paths of publicly sharing hope that have been laid before us. As Craig said that morning, “Reliving that day is a sacrifice we must take on in order to help others, and it is all worth it when we meet one person who finds hope in the middle of their own struggles.”

As I mention in my previous blog Nameless, may these be the stories we focus on after tragedy. Rather than the names of killers, everyone should know the names of heroes like Craig.

www.kaceyruegseggerjohnson.com

Over My Shoulder A Columbine Survivor’s Story of Resilience, Hope, and a Life Reclaimed