The shootings in Aurora have conjured up memories of another Colorado tragedy, Columbine.
YNN reporter Andrew Sorensen grew up there and was in a nearby school when the 1999 shootings happened. Here is his “Open letter to Aurora".
An open letter to Aurora from a member of the Columbine community: A reflection on the 7/20 shootings
I can’t tell you how it feels to be the friends and family of the victims of the Aurora shootings, but I give you an idea of what Colorado and the Denver-Metro area are going through right now.
When I flipped open my laptop just after 4 a.m. EST in my Clinton, N.Y. apartment on July 20, I didn’t expect much. I refreshed the browser I typically keep open to Facebook and scrolled down through a couple of posts. As I came across back-to-back posts from a couple of news-savvy Denver friends, I froze.
I hastily clicked the link to NBC Denver affiliate KUSA’s live coverage. Anchor Kyle Dyer had a look on her face that showed we were feeling the same demonic déjà-vu, but she was clearly handling it better than I was. Composed, she pitched to a reporter standing outside of the Century 16 in Aurora. He explained all the now-familiar budding details of the July 20 shooting that proved to be the worst shooting in American history, leaving 12 dead and more than 70 people injured from gunshot wounds.
A familiar feeling crept up my spine like frost growing on a window until it reached my brain. The emotion I shared with most of the Denver-Metro area in that moment, and for the second time in just over a decade, has been described by pundits in the last several days as a mixture of shock, sadness and anger. Those words don’t quite capture the feeling, but let’s see if we can’t spread some understanding.
On April 20, 1999, I was in Ms. Holmquist’s third grade class. Much of that day seems a blur now. I remember Ms. Holmquist getting a call and snapping to attention. She quickly shut the classroom’s blinds and told us to stay away from the windows and doors. We had to wait for what seemed like hours before some adult, it could have been Ms. Holmquist, told us there was someone in the area with a gun and they were shooting people.
At that exact moment, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office was engaging Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in one of the most definitive standoff episodes to have ever occurred. What happened that day challenged the way schools, police and society looked at a whole slew of issues: guns, bullying, revenge, video games, but most of all—the seriousness of a threat.
I remember the emotions: the feeling of being trapped, afraid and powerless, like the ground had just vacated the area beneath your feet and the only thing left was infinite gravity, slowly crushing your every fiber, daring you to move so that it could crush a little more. Yet I wasn’t even in the building during the Columbine High School Massacre (or just Columbine as we call it), but I knew people who were there and people who died, just as many of you, regrettably, know people who were in Theater 9.
The largest and worst piece was not knowing. Who was it? Who had they shot? Is my family OK? What am I going to do if my family is not OK? These questions quickly slide into panic. The emotions I know from April 20, 1999 aren’t what the people of Aurora are feeling, but they are similar. Your scars are thirteen years fresher.
I remember most about what came after, a community torn apart, challenging the terror they had felt, days, possibly hours before, coming together to build a stronger, more unified, and resilient family. We hugged more, we cried together, we lifted each other from the ground with a renewed sense of purpose. We understood what it meant to Respect Life.
This is what Aurora will be going through over the next few months. It’s hard, and the abyssal sadness will never quite go away, but you will know you have won and defeated the evilest of men in your recovery.
One of the phrases that showed up in the mourning period and tied us together in the years after Columbine was, “WE ARE ALL COLUMBINE.”
We feel for you, is what it said. We are there for you, as one.
Though some will forget all too quickly, and immediately go back to their old ways of thought and actions, we never will. I don’t know how to best describe what we feel during a traumatic event like this, but I do know we should be spreading some love and understanding to heal the wounds. I know we should be building each other up from this mess.
We know we shouldn’t be using this as an excuse to bring up political views. We know we should take this opportunity to learn and make sure it never happens again. We know WE ARE ALL AURORA, and we will all help you. Aurora and Columbine aren’t the same, and shouldn’t be viewed as parallels, but the same hurt confusion lives in both, and we can tell you first hand it gets better, but the memory will live on. To quote an Aurora resident friend, “People keep saying it’s like a nightmare. It’s not a nightmare, it’s just a really bad day.” You will have more bad days in burying and remembering the fallen. Each anniversary brings a twinge of the pain back, but like I said, it will get better, the scars will grow smaller and we will help you get there.