25 Years Later, Columbine Survivor’s Message Echoes Nationwide: ‘Forgiveness Is What Sets You Free’

by Pelican Press
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25 Years Later, Columbine Survivor’s Message Echoes Nationwide: ‘Forgiveness Is What Sets You Free’

It was 25 years ago on April 20 when two heavily armed students walked into Columbine High School and opened fire, sending shockwaves across the country. The tragic events of that day became a watershed moment that would eventually lead to an epidemic of violence. 

The 1999 massacre in Littleton, CO resulted in 15 deaths, including the shooters. Today, many Americans still equate the word Columbine with terror while authorities remember the day as a sad and frightening turning point. 

“Suddenly, we saw these innocent people being, you know, shot down for no reason,” said Suzanne Sibole, a school safety specialist and threat assessment expert with Youth Risk Prevention Specialists. “Probably the most critical thing and the most important thing it did was show us there are signs if we can learn them, we can intervene sooner.” 

Sibole says springtime especially requires extra vigilance in identifying possible warning signs. She notes that in addition to Columbine, this season coincides with the anniversaries of more than 50 such shootings over the past two decades.

“So, I think that was another shock – it was like a new awareness that this can happen,” Sibole said. 

Craig Scott survived that day in the school’s library, a location of intense shooting where 10 victims died, including two friends hiding next to him under a table. 

“They came to where I was, they saw my friend Isaiah – they called him racial slurs and tried to pull him out from underneath the table. They killed him. Then they killed my friend Matt. Then they left me underneath that table, I thought I was going to die,” Scott said. 

After escaping, Scott would learn his sister, Rachel Joy Scott, had been the first person killed that day. Rachel’s story, however, would live on as an inspiration. 

“I’ve dedicated a lot of my life to sharing my sister’s story, my story, and traveling around and speaking,” Scott said. “My family started an organization to share the life and legacy of my sister.” 

Rachel’s Challenge, started by Craig and his family, has led to the nation’s largest school assembly program – with the goal of saving lives and preventing school violence. 

“She had a prayer in her life and it was to be used to impact people positively, and she wanted to start a positive chain reaction,” said Craig. “When she was thirteen years old she traced her hands on the back of an old dresser and wrote ‘These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of people’s hearts.'” 

Those hands have also touched him as he carries on her legacy by speaking to the importance of moving beyond your past – a lesson he learned through healing and advocacy. 

“My story matters, your story matters – but you are not your story,” said Scott. “You have a past story and a current one happening right now, and you have a future story.” 

His message of forgiveness is perhaps his most powerful. 

“Forgiveness is like setting a prisoner free and finding out that prisoner was you,” said Craig. “So you have all of this anger and you realize forgiveness is what sets you free from that.” 


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