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After Columbine, An Unlikely Friendship Bound By The Trauma Of Mass Shootings

Heather Martin (left) was a student at Columbine High School in 1999. She met Sherrie Lawson, who worked at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard in 2013 during the shooting there, through Martin’s support organization, the Rebels Project.

Nathaniel Minor/CPR

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Nathaniel Minor/CPR

Heather Martin (left) was a student at Columbine High School in 1999. She met Sherrie Lawson, who worked at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard in 2013 during the shooting there, through Martin’s support organization, the Rebels Project.

Nathaniel Minor/CPR

On April 20, 1999, as two students carried out the deadly shooting at Columbine High School, senior Heather Martin was barricaded in a choir office with 60 other students. It would be several hours before emergency responders found the room and were able to help the group get out.

“I only saw the aftermath,” she said. “I didn’t see anything as it was happening.” But she was shocked to later find out that the perpetrators were two of her peers, including one she had grown up with.

It took her 10 years to return to her alma mater for the first time. “I was really scared,” she said. “I thought that I would be a wreck.” But something unexpected happened. As she walked through the halls with her little sister, she found herself having fun. They took photos and met the children of their classmates. It was less of a memorial that it was a reunion.

“It was great to see everyone and just to reconnect and be around your people,” Martin said.

That was a turning point in Martin’s life. She went on to found the Rebels Project, a nonprofit named after her high school’s mascot. She and other Columbine alumni visit and support survivors of other shootings around the United States. While professional help is essential, Martin and other survivors say it’s the help they’ve given each other that has made a big difference in their lives.

It took Martin years to get to where she could help herself, let alone others.

In the months after the shooting, which she survived physically unharmed, Martin found that it was all anyone around her wanted to talk about.

An English professor at her community college even assigned a paper on school violence. Martin tried to get out of it.

“And the response I got was just kind of like, ‘Well, that’s the assignment. You have to do the paper, or you’re going to fail the class,’ ” she remembered.

Heather’s life spiraled. She dropped out of college and developed an eating disorder that landed her in the hospital. She dabbled in drugs.

“It was pretty short-lived, but it was definitely a red flag for me,” she said. “I wasn’t right.”

Martin started to see a therapist, which helped her get her life back on track. After her visit to Columbine in 2009, she went back to college and earned her teaching license. Then, after the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting in 2012, she started the Rebels Project.

Unfortunately, all the time new people were going through what she’d gone through.

In September 2013, a little more than a year after the Aurora theater shooting, Sherrie Lawson was at work early on a Monday morning. She was a contractor at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., a massive campus that employs some 15,000 workers.

A little after 8 a.m., the shooting started.

“We ended up scaling the eight-to-10-foot brick wall that surrounds the Navy Yard and running up to safety because the shooter was still actively shooting behind us,” she said.

A dozen people were killed. Just a few days later, Lawson was told to go back to her office to pick up her laptop. She took the bus over but couldn’t make herself get off at her stop.

“I had to stay on for a couple of blocks and then just kind of had an emotional meltdown in the middle of the sidewalk,” Lawson said.

In the months following the shooting, she had panic attacks nearly every day and landed in the hospital with an irregular heartbeat. Her employer was pressuring her to keep working. Lawson said she wasn’t physically wounded but was an emotional and mental wreck. She felt like her friends, relatives and co-workers weren’t giving her the support she needed.

“If I had a cast on or if I was on crutches, people would be a little gentler around me,” she said. “But there’s no way to do that when you have this injury that people can’t see.”

Her physical condition deteriorated, and her social life became nonexistent. In her lowest moment, she contemplated suicide.

“I was like, ‘If this is the way it has to be, I don’t want it,’ ” she said.

And on top of all that, she started to have nightmares.

“And so, one night at 3 a.m., I did this frantic Google search looking for some type of support system,” she said.

She found the Rebels Project and sent Martin an email. After six months of correspondence, Lawson flew to Denver for a survivors event. The two ended up sitting in Martin’s car for hours talking and listening to Bruce Springsteen — his post-Sept. 11 album, The Rising, was particularly meaningful.

“I feel like I emotionally just vomited all over her car,” Lawson said.

Lawson made a decision to fight for her health. And she wanted to do it where she felt like she had meaningful support: Colorado. After living in Washington, D.C., for years, a move to Denver was a big shift — a million dollars wouldn’t have convinced her to do that a decade ago, she said.

But she has gotten used to Denver’s relatively laid-back vibe. And she’s all but made herself part of Martin’s family.

“She’s in our family Christmas photo,” Martin said.

Grocery stores can trigger past trauma for both of them, so now they shop together. Part of recovering from a shooting, they say, is not trying to avoid the world — it’s relearning how to live in it.

More mass shootings have resulted in more communities of survivors. But not every group is as constructive.

Hayley Steinmuller, a survivor of the Las Vegas shooting in 2017, was part of a handful of Facebook survivor groups. One of them had more than 8,000 people in it, Steinmuller said.

“I thought it was a very supportive group,” she said. “But kind of quickly, I realized that it was almost more detrimental to my own healing. There was a lot of negativity in the groups and a lot of people comparing their traumas and what they had been through.”

Beyond that, these groups were full of people who’d lived through the same traumatic event; they were all trying to process similar feelings at the same time. The Rebels Project also has a Facebook group, but access is tightly controlled. And its members are more varied; some lived through their traumas decades ago and have developed ways to cope, especially with the challenge of parenting.

“It’s so many different stories,” Steinmuller said. “But there are common themes for us that help us understand each other.”

A friend told Steinmuller about the Rebels Project, which she quickly joined. She left the other Facebook groups and is now planning to move to Colorado for work. The network she has developed at the Rebels Project is a big draw too, she said.

“It’s just not anything that I had”

These days, Martin and Lawson spend time traveling across the country together to communities affected by shootings. They’ve gone to places that have seen high-profile shootings, like Orlando and Parkland, Fla., and to more out-of-the-way locales, like Cedarville Rancheria, a Native American community in remote Northern California.

“We thought we were going to go out there and do a presentation,” Lawson said of the Cedarville Rancheria trip. “And we get there, and we ditch the PowerPoint and basically just have a support group meeting.”

Lawson said they needed someone to listen — someone who understood what they were feeling.

“We experienced that in Florida when we met with one of the first responders from the Pulse shooting,” she said. “He was able to just tell us things that he hadn’t been able to share with other people.”

Having these conversations is an emotional and draining task. Martin said she has to take breaks and focus on self-care but added that her mission is one that not many others are qualified to do.

“If I can provide that system of support earlier in the recovery just to make that process easier, it’s just not anything that I had,” she said. “I want to offer it to others.”

Martin gets something out of her work too. It forces her to think about her own recovery. That’s top of mind right now as Martin and Lawson plan events for the Columbine anniversary. Those are always tough, but Martin said big, round-number anniversaries — like the 20th — are particularly challenging.

“I’m trekking through,” she said. “But this one’s really heavy.”

Lawson said it’s her job to step in and help carry the load. She knows she’ll need help herself in the fall when her anniversary comes around. And Martin said she’ll be there, ready to support her friend.

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‘We don’t get over it’: Pain of mass shootings stretches on

By Terry Spencer, Kelli Kennedy and Colleen Slevin | AP

April 18 at 1:55 AM

PARKLAND, Fla. — Alex Rozenblat can still hear the cries of a wounded boy calling for help as she hid from the gunfire that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year.

Talking to therapists at the school in Parkland, Florida, didn’t help. Each session had a different counselor, and she found herself rehashing traumas she had already expressed. She would rather turn to her friends, who understand what she went through.

“There is slight pressure to get better as quickly as you can, and since it’s been a year, everyone thinks that you are better,” the 16-year-old said.

The mental health resources after a school shooting range from therapy dogs and grief counselors at school to support groups, art therapy and in-home counseling. But there is no blueprint for dealing with the trauma because each tragedy, survivor and community is different. Many survivors don’t get counseling right away — sometimes waiting years — making it difficult to understand the full impact.

The struggle is getting them to seek help in the first place. In the two decades since the Columbine High School massacre, a network of survivors has emerged, reaching out to the newest victims to offer support that many say they prefer to traditional therapy.

As the anguish festers, the danger grows, illustrated by the recent suicides of two Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivors and a father whose young child died in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

“It changes the community,” said psychologist Robin Gurwitch, a trauma specialist at Duke University Medical Center.

Grief, troubling memories and emotions can bubble up any time for survivors and even community members who didn’t see the bullets fly, she said. They can hit on anniversaries of the tragedy, birthdays of victims, graduations and new mass shootings, Gurwitch said. The trauma can even rush back with a song, favorite meal, video game or fire alarms.

“There’s never a time limit. We don’t get ‘over it.’ We hope we learn to get through it and cope,” Gurwitch said.

Survivors of the Columbine attack, which killed 12 Colorado students and a teacher on April 20, 1999, started The Rebels Project, which is part of a loose nationwide network of survivors of mass attacks.

The groups reach out after each shooting. They held a packed meeting for survivors and parents in Parkland this month, describing how they have learned to cope over the years through therapy, exercise and hobbies and assuring the Florida community that their pain is normal.

“We are one family,” said meeting organizer Mike Dempsey, a survivor of 9/11 and the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting. “What helped me after 9/11 was that Oklahoma City bombing survivors drove all the way up to New York to help us. They weren’t mental health professionals, but they were able to offer comfort and outreach and just to let us know: ‘We’ve been through this.’”

Rozenblat refuses to talk about the Parkland shooting. If she feels anxious during the school day, she holes up in a TV production classroom because there are no windows for a gunman to shoot through.

Her mother worries. Alex had been an honors student but now struggles with schoolwork, is constantly angry and has a new group of friends, said her mother, Lissette Rozenblat.

She schedules therapy appointments, but Alex often makes excuses to postpone or cancel. The family bought a therapy dog and is trying to get Alex into art therapy.

“The common theme among parents … almost all of our kids don’t want to talk about the incident,” Lissette Rozenblat said.

Some students who were not physically wounded minimize their trauma and don’t seek help because they try to convince themselves they were lucky, said Columbine survivor Heather Martin, who co-founded The Rebel Project.

“You can’t measure trauma in that way,” Martin said. Still, she said people need to seek help when they feel ready, not when others think they should.

Victims often receive compensation for longer-term care, but many in recovering communities, especially those may have seen horror but avoided injury, say there’s still not enough help to go around.

Stoneman Douglas math teacher Kimberly Krawczyk said no typical school counselor — no matter how well-intentioned or trained — can fully help students or staff who survived a mass shooting.

“These kids have seen as much as soldiers who have been in battle. They survived gunfire. They walked over bodies. They had classmates who were right next to them who got shot,” Krawczyk said.

Teachers also are dealing with their own trauma and insecurities, she said.

“We don’t all have our marbles back in our bags yet, but we are in charge of those children. That gravity is a lot of responsibility, and for some teachers, it is too emotionally overwhelming,” Krawczyk said.

Managing long-term mental health effects poses unique challenges in each town touched by tragedy, but experts agree that isolation is a red flag and keeping victims connected to family, friends and community is critical.

Dr. April Foreman, a psychologist on the board of the American Association of Suicidology, called treating mass shootings “a profound lifetime health care issue” but stressed that a majority of those who have suicidal thoughts recover.

Marjory Stoneman sophomore Julia Brighton said she’s attempted suicide four times in the year since she watched the gunman shoot through the window of her English class, killing three friends. Despite an outpouring of community support and a bevy of mental health services, Brighton said she still felt ashamed to seek help.

After months of therapy, she said she realized “there’s nothing to be afraid of because it made me a better person in the long run.”


Slevin reported from Denver. Associated Press Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner in Chicago contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Police say she's infatuated with the Columbine shooting. She's not alone

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Removing invalid mediaTypes.native.icon.sizes property from request.”),delete e.mediaTypes.native.icon.sizes))),e,h.callBids = function(e, t, r, i, o, a) {if (t.length) {var n = t.reduce((function(e, t) return e[Number(void 0 !== t.src && t.src === C.S2S.SRC)].push(t),e), [[], []]), d = b(n, 2), u = d[0], s = d[1];if (s.length) {var c = (0,E.ajaxBuilder)(a, o ? request: o.request.bind(null, “s2s”),done: o.done : void 0), f = U.bidders, l = R[U.adapter], g = s[0].tid, p = s[0].adUnitsS2SCopy;if (l) var v = tid: g,ad_units: p;if (v.ad_units.length) var y = return e.start = (0,S.timestamp)(),i)), m = v.ad_units.reduce((function(e, t) return e.concat((t.bids ), []);w.logMessage(“CALLING S2S HEADER BIDDERS ==== ” + f.filter((function(e) return (0,A.default)(m, e))).join(“,”)),s.forEach((function(e) B.emit(C.EVENTS.BID_REQUESTED, e))),l.callBids(v, s, r, (function() return y.forEach((function(e) return e()))), c)}u.forEach((function(e) e.start = (0,S.timestamp)();var t = R[e.bidderCode];w.logMessage(“CALLING BIDDER ======= ” + e.bidderCode),B.emit(C.EVENTS.BID_REQUESTED, e);var n = (e.doneCbCallCount = 0,E.ajaxBuilder)(a, o ? request: o.request.bind(null, e.bidderCode),done: o.done : void 0);t.callBids(e, r, i, n)))} else w.logWarn(“callBids executed with no bidRequests. Were they filtered by labels or sizing?”)},h.videoAdapters = [],h.registerBidAdapter = function(e, t) {var n = (2 n


nx3c!– Rubicon Project Ad Tag –x3en




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20 years on, Columbine survivors tell Parkland students: 'We're sorry we couldn't stop it.'

20 years on, Columbine survivors tell Parkland students: ‘We’re sorry we couldn’t stop it.’  CNN

Saturday marks 20 years since the massacre at Columbine High School near Denver. The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School north of Miami is …

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FBI searching for

LITTLETON, Colo. (AP) — Denver-area public schools will be closed Wednesday as authorities search for a young Florida woman who flew to the city and bought a gun after becoming “infatuated” with the mass shooting at Columbine High School.

The FBI said Sol Pais, 18, is “considered to be extremely dangerous” and “made threats to commit an act of violence in the Denver metropolitan area” just days before the 20th anniversary of the attack that killed 13 people.

All schools in the Denver area were urged to tighten security because the threat was deemed “credible and general,” said Patricia Billinger, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Public Safety. Columbine and more than 20 other schools outside Denver lock their doors for nearly three hours Tuesday afternoon before Wednesday’s complete closures were announced.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI say Pais traveled to Colorado from Miami on Monday night and bought a pump-action shotgun and ammunition.

Denver Public Schools said that all facilities and programs will be closed Wednesday, and there will be no afternoon activities or athletic competitions. The district said the decision to close campuses was in collaboration with other Denver metro-area school districts due to the ongoing safety concern.

On Tuesday, some schools released their students after additional security was called in and canceled evening activities or moved them inside.

“We always have heightened awareness close to high-profile anniversaries like this,” Billinger said.

Authorities said Pais was last seen near Columbine — in the Jefferson County foothills outside Denver — wearing a black T-shirt, camouflage pants and black boots. They appealed for anyone seeing her to call an FBI tip line at 303 630-6227, and said she is too dangerous to be approached by civilians. The alert also said police who come into contact with her should detain her and evaluate her mental health.

“This has become a massive manhunt … and every law enforcement agency is participating and helping in this effort,” Dean Phillips, special agent in charge of the FBI in Denver, said late Tuesday night.

The FBI’s Rocky Mountain Safe Streets Task Force issued a notice Tuesday describing Pais as “infatuated with (the) Columbine school shooting.”

Sheriff’s spokesman Mike Taplin said the threats she made were general and not specific to any school.

The Denver Post reported that a call to a phone number listed for Pais’ parents in Surfside, Florida, was interrupted by a man who identified himself as an FBI agent and said he was interviewing them.

Surfside Police Sgt. Marian Cruz confirmed that her parents last saw her on Sunday and reported her missing on Monday. The Miami Herald and WTVJ are reporting that neighbors say the teen is a senior at Miami Beach High School.

The Associated Press left messages at two numbers listed for Pais’ relatives in Florida, while another number was disconnected.

Two teenage gunmen attacked Columbine on April 20, 1999, killing 12 classmates and a teacher.


Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert in Denver contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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FBI Searching for Woman Who Allegedly Threatened Columbine High School Days Before Anniversary of Shooting

Sol Pais appears in undated photos provided by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

Sol Pais appears in undated photos provided by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

Authorities said Tuesday they are looking for an 18-year-old woman suspected of making threats against Columbine High School, just days before the 20th anniversary of a mass shooting that killed 13 people.

The information prompted a lockdown at the high school and several others outside Denver. All students were safe, school officials said.

Sol Pais traveled to Colorado on Monday night and made threats against the schools, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI said. Officials didn’t provide further details about the threats or say where she was from.

Pais was last seen in the foothills west of Denver, was considered armed and extremely dangerous and should not be approached.

The doors were locked at Columbine and more than 20 other schools in the Denver area as the sheriff’s office said it was investigating threats against schools related to an FBI investigation.

Students left classes on time, but after-school activities were canceled at Columbine in Littleton, Colorado.

Teenage gunmen attacked Columbine on April 20, 1999, killing 12 classmates and a teacher.


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2020 hopeful Hickenlooper talks with mass shooting survivors

DENVER (AP) — Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is talking to more survivors of mass shootings.

Hickenlooper, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, met earlier this month with survivors of the Charleston church massacre.

On Tuesday in Denver, he met with survivors of the Aurora theater shooting and the Columbine massacre, just four days before the 20th anniversary of the suburban high school attack that killed 13.

Hickenlooper has touted the gun control measures he signed after the 2012 Aurora attack. But Tuesday’s discussion was somber and barely touched on guns. Instead, survivors spoke about the need for improved mental health services for those hurt by the attacks and for potential perpetrators in a bid to prevent further mass shootings.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Senator Kaine speaks on anniversary of Virginia Tech Shooting

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WFXR News) – Senator Kaine took time to reflect on his time as Governor on the 12th anniversary of the Virginia Tech Shooting. 

Kaine describes how the tragedy had been a wake-up call for lawmakers to enforce better gun control laws to protect future students, but not all lawmakers are on the same page on the strategy needed to tackle legislation. 



Since April 16, 2007, there have been other mass shootings at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, a country music concert in Las Vegas, and multiple church attacks as well. 

The Senator says state legislators have made progress to ensure their citizens are protected from future tragedies, but also says Congress has not done its best work. 

Senator Kaine hopes the House and Senate will pass gun legislation to strengthen the nation’s background check system. 


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US newspaper wins Pulitzer it didn

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A US local newspaper has won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of a mass shooting in its own newsroom.

But there was no celebration as the Capital Gazette in Maryland learned on Monday it had won the most prestigious prize in American journalism.

Staff quietly hugged in memory of five colleagues killed by a gunman who burst into their office in June 2018.

Pulitzers also went to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal for investigations into President Trump.

Two journalists jailed in Myanmar for reporting a massacre of Rohingya Muslims were part of a team from Reuters news agency that also won an award.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced last year to seven years in prison for breaking the Official Secrets Act, despite an international outcry over what was widely seen as an attack on media freedom.

Reuters has said it will not be celebrating the prize until their two colleagues are released.

The Capital Gazette in Annapolis won a special Pulitzer Prize citation for its coverage and courage in the face of one of the deadliest attacks on journalists in American history.

The Pulitzer board awarded the citation with a $100,000 (£76,400) grant to further the newspaper’s journalism.

Employees John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Gerald Fischman and Rob Hiaasen died in last summer’s attack.

But the staff still managed to publish a newspaper on schedule the next day.

A man with a longstanding grudge against the Capital Gazette is charged with the attack. He pleaded not guilty last year.

Coverage of mass shootings netted Pulitzers for two other local newspapers.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette received a breaking news award for its “immersive, compassionate” reporting of last October’s attack at a Pennsylvania synagogue that left 11 people dead.

And the South Florida Sun Sentinel won a Pulitzer for its reporting on the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead.

It received the public service award for “exposing failings by school and law enforcement officials before and after the deadly shooting rampage”.

The New York Times won a prize for explanatory reporting of Mr Trump’s finances and tax avoidance and another for editorial writing.

The Wall Street Journal won the national reporting prize for uncovering the president’s secret payoffs to two alleged former mistresses during his campaign.

The Washington Post also won two Pulitzers for photojournalism in Yemen and for criticism, covering book reviews and essays.

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