Forty miles away and seven years earlier, Crystal Miller stood where the six hostages in the Platte Canyon High School shooting stood on Wednesday. Like Emily Keyes, who died yesterday from a gunshot wound, Miller was sixteen-years-old when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into her school and shot to death 12 of her fellow classmates and one teacher at Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado.
"I remember so well the emotion that's involved, the questions, the fear and the guilt and the anger; just that roller coaster of emotions that you go through and living in that paradoxical state of being thankful that you are alive, but wishing you were dead because the pain is so overwhelming," said Miller.
The pain Miller describes is not physical; she was not injured in the Columbine shooting. Her pain comes from her vivid memories of April 20, 1999. She was studying for a physics tests and hid under a table when the shooting began.
"I was there in the middle of the library for seven and a half minutes. Of course it felt like an eternity. For these seven and a half minutes I imagined so many different things. What would it feel like to get shot? I had my life flashing before my eyes, and at the end of the seven and a half minutes the boys ran out of ammunition as they stood above our table," remembered Miller.
Now 24-years-old, Miller is speaking to high school students around the country with the 180 Tour, using her experience at Columbine to teach young people that the decisions they make can have eternal consequences.
Miller was leaving a school assembly on Wednesday when she heard about the shooting in Bailey. "It takes you back and you remember things. I've done a tremendous amount of healing over the last seven and half years, but of course there's always raw emotion there when you hear something like this," said Miller. "It hurts so bad to hear that something like this is going on, but especially back in Denver, not far from Columbine, to recognize that once again our community is struggling and has so many questions, but no answers to those questions."
A Parent's Perspective
On that fateful day in Littleton, John Ireland waited for hours to find out where his son Patrick was. John was at work on Wednesday when he read about the hostage situation in Bailey and he instantly remembered getting word about the shooting at Columbine. "Everything comes back," said Ireland.
Ireland assumed his son Patrick had left the high school for lunch, but later learned that he'd been in the library with Miller. Patrick was shot twice in the head and once in the foot before escaping through the library window into the arms of SWAT team members.
"I can relate to the parents yesterday who were waiting for their children as they took them out of the school to transport them to the middle school, wondering whether or not your child is going to be there or where your child was at that time," Ireland said, commenting that the images of parents arriving at Platte Canyon affected him the most.
Ireland knows right where his son is today, at work. Pat, who was seventeen at the time of the Columbine shooting, is now 25 years old. He's mostly recovered from complete paralysis of his right side and was recently married.
Randy Brown, another father during Columbine, notes that the Bailey shooting and others like it make it difficult for those touched by Columbine to move on -- such as his son Brooks whom he says is depressed because of the news.
Brown was driving when a friend called to tell him about Platte Canyon. "This is how it affects people out here. I pulled my car over and I cried, because this brings back Columbine. What's more, you think about those families and what they're going to go through because we've been through it," he said.
Shooter Erik Harris had threatened Brooks prior to the Columbine event, but did not shoot him on the day it occurred. Though Brooks, and his brother went unharmed, they have spent the last six years trying to recover emotionally. They are also seeking answers. Could the authorities have done more to prevent the killings?
"What I would tell families there is first, it's ok to cry and the best thing you can do is to talk about it with everyone you can find and don't deny that it happened and don't hide from it," said Brown when asked what advice he has for the families in Bailey, some of whom he knows personally.
He continued, "The next thing would be to find out exactly what happened and the police need to be honest with the citizens. Tell the people what happened and they should understand that some of the reason this happened is because the mistakes made at Columbine were corrected to some degree and that's why the SWAT team went in and took this guy out. And the police went into the school right away and that may have prevented other deaths."
That more deaths did not occur at Platte reassures Brown that authorities learned something from Columbine, but every time he sees a school shooting it reminds him that experiences like his own are not unique.
"This shatters your perceptions of America and the life you're living; it changes your life completely it's not the same world after this happens ," he said.