I Survived the Shootings at Columbine HS...what I'd like you to know now that I'm a mom

Teresa Swanstrom Anderson.jpg

Hey friends, Teresa here. Today’s conversation is a bit of a hard one.

With six kids at five schools, I pray each and every morning that they will stay safe within the walls of where they’re educated.

And each and every morning as I kiss them and say goodbye, I wonder if they actually WILL be safe. It shouldn’t be this way, but it’s the reality of today.

Crystal is a survivor of the shootings at at Columbine HS. And by survivor, I mean she witnessed things we pray our children never will.

In honoring Columbine’s 20 year anniversary this week, I wanted this dear friend to share her heart of forgiveness and remind us that when darkness surrounds, we must always let the light back in.

If you’d like to hear more of sweet Crystal’s heart, head over to my personal blog and read her post, Fear, Family, + School Shootings. xo Teresa


Lately, it's impossible to open up your news feed or turn on the TV without seeing a headline about a shooting somewhere in the world, where lives are tragically cut short at the hands of someone bent on mass destruction. It seems no one is safe, whether watching a movie, attending a concert, eating at a restaurant, or going to school, our lives and the lives of our children seem to be in peril. Whether we like it or not, we are faced with a choice, to either shrink back in fear, or to push forward in hope.

For me, that choice came nearly twenty years ago on April 20, 1999. I was a sixteen year old junior at Columbine High School. I had gone to the library with a few of my friends to study for a test I had later that afternoon. After only a few minutes in the library, a teacher ran through the doors screaming that we were in danger, as two boys with guns were shooting students.

beautiful painting of Columbines by  Oana Befort

beautiful painting of Columbines by Oana Befort

Immediately taking cover mere moments before they entered the room, we witnessed what would become the worst school shooting in history at the time. The library was where a majority of the violence happened that day, the same place where I pleaded with God to save my life and the same place where I stared death in the face. Regardless of where any of us were that day, we were all deeply affected. Regardless of whether you were even at the school the day, it has struck fear in the heart of every parent today.

What began twenty years ago at Columbine High School started an epidemic that has become rampant in our world still today. We live in a post-columbine era, where every student knows school is no longer just a place to learn, but also the next place where terror could potentially strike.

Therefore, if we look to the news, to inform our beliefs about others and the world around us, fear will take over and we will certainly loose all hope.

But let me assure you, all hope is not lost.

Hope can be found in the teacher who shields her students from raining bullets.

photo of Columbine memorial, just after shootings. provided by Crystal.

photo of Columbine memorial, just after shootings. provided by Crystal.

Hope can be found in the firefighter who runs into a burning building when everyone else is running away from it. Hope can be found in the hundreds of people who pour into a city or country after a natural disaster to bring aid and offer help. Hope can be found in the family who opens their home and their hearts to a foster child. Hope can be found in the army of people who show up after the loss of a loved one to cook, clean and help. Hope can be found in the nurse who sits at the bedside of a sick patient all night caring for them. Hope can be found in the friend who sits with and listens to you in your darkest despair and depression, refusing to let you be alone.

Hope can always be found in our kindness toward others and in the kindness others show us.

Because kindness reminds us that there is still good in the world and it gives us courage to press forward despite our circumstances. Kindness is the tonic we need for a world torn apart, bruised and battered by war, famine, disease, disasters, injustice, division, hatred, racism and violence. We can never underestimate the power of a kind word, a kind act, or a kind gesture. What the world craves now, maybe more than ever, is to know they are not alone, they matter, they have a place to belong and they are loved.

photo of Columbine memorial, just after shootings. provided by Crystal.

photo of Columbine memorial, just after shootings. provided by Crystal.

Kindness will not solve the worlds problems, but it will make the journey through difficulties much easier to bear.

We need one another, we are made for one another. It’s easy to forget such a simple truth, in this day and age where we run at breakneck speed toward our dreams wishes and desires, and see people as means to an end. It’s easy to forget our need for one another in this day and age where we lead lives dictated by our schedules, and the schedules of our kids, never stopping long enough to enjoy a moment. It’s easy to forget our need for one another in this day and age where social media is king and the number of likes and comments alone give us self-worth. What if we looked up from our phones and our devices more often to remember that we need one another, that we can offer safety, connection and belonging for others to process their pain and grief?

What if we quit getting so angry over each other’s offenses to recognize that we are all more alike than we are different?

And what if we listened, instead of always trying to be heard?

photo of Columbine memorial, just after shootings. provided by Crystal.

photo of Columbine memorial, just after shootings. provided by Crystal.

Is it possible that we can build better neighborhoods, places of work and schools when we look to the needs of others above our own? I believe the answer is yes. I believe so many of our problems today stem from the fact that we have forgotten to care for one another. We have become more concerned about ourselves and what we can gain. Most issues in society could be impacted through the basic understanding of human decency toward our fellow man. I am not sure I understood this truth until I came face to face with humanity at its worst at Columbine on April 20 1999.

Rainbow over what would become the columbine memorial (behind Columbine HS) provided by Crystal

Rainbow over what would become the columbine memorial (behind Columbine HS) provided by Crystal

Sometimes it takes seeing the darkest night, where hopelessness abounds to recognize hope and light and our great need for it.

Change starts with me and it starts with you.

But listen, this is important…

Our children look to us as mothers in how to treat and look out for others. They look to us to lead them into a bright future, a future where they lead the charge, not by force or power, but in humility and kindness. And if you touch the heart, you can make transformation a more true reality. Don’t get me wrong, we must still talk with our children about the real dangers of school violence. It is vital that they are aware of the red flags and trained to have a plan in the event of an attack.

But ultimately as mothers our effort is best spent teaching our children the value of others, by entering into their stories. It is nearly impossible to hate or dislike someone once you know where they came from. Teaching our children to see beyond their snap judgements and get to know people for who they truly are, is of utmost importance. Always being on the lookout for those marginalized and on the fringe of society. As mothers we can teach our kids that kindness has the ability to spread like wildfire and offer hope to a hopeless world. The hope for our future is found within the walls of our homes, and in the mama who never stops teaching them!


READ MORE ABOUT  CRYSTAL  (AND ALL OUR AMAZING CONTRIBUTORS) BY HEADING TO  THE & GALS  SECTION

READ MORE ABOUT CRYSTAL (AND ALL OUR AMAZING CONTRIBUTORS) BY HEADING TO THE & GALS SECTION

Author and Speaker, Crystal is a survivor of the shootings at Columbine High School and has been seen on The Today Show, CNN, Dateline, and featured in Glamour, Marie Claire and Time Magazine, as well as countless other media sources as she advocates for hope after extreme tragedy.