About 100 people gathered Saturday in Clement Park to mark the 15th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings.
The event, organized by the nonprofit gun-control group Colorado Ceasefire, also honored victims of mass shootings since Columbine, including the Aurora theater shootings in 2012 and the Arapahoe High School shooting late last year.
“In 15 years, we’ve come a long way. We made it. We survived,” said Coni Sanders, daughter of Columbine teacher Dave Sanders, who was killed while trying to protect students. “I really feel like we felt some peace, and although the anger will never go away, we feel peaceful that we found a path — a path of purpose.”
Sanders works as a counselor with violent prisoners. She said the events of April 20, 1999 — when two student gunmen killed 12 fellow students and Sanders — changed the lives of everyone at Columbine, including her own.
“If you asked me 15 years ago if I would want to be in a room with 15 convicted felons for violence by myself, telling them that it’s OK to cry, and it’s OK to talk about their feelings, I would have said you were nuts,” Sanders said. “It’s been such a hard journey, but we’ve all found our way quite uniquely.”
Yet with each new mass shooting, the pain from Columbine is relived.
“When you talk to the people from the Aurora shooting, it’s so fresh for them. It all starts coming back for me. I hate that they have to go through it,” said Julia Bernzott, Dave Sanders’ niece. “We’ve been there, and it hurts to see anyone else go through it. It makes us all go through it again.”
“I cry for that. I cry more for the families than I do the victims, because they have to live it every day. Their story just changed,” Sanders said. “Their journey just changed.”
While the survivors of Columbine and other mass shootings share a unique pain, the entire community also experiences grief, said 16-year-old Denver resident Josie Brady, founder of Colorado Ceasefire’s youth initiative.
“I’m surrounded by this. I grew up in the shadow of Columbine,” said Brady, who led the memorial event. “We’re surrounded by this kind of stuff. We have Columbine; we have Aurora. Now we have Arapahoe. I know people at Arapahoe currently. It’s affected everyone, and it’s become such a big issue.”
Contact Ramsey Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine. Check www.columbinecourier
.com for updates.