Arapahoe High School student talks about coping with tragedy

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(Photo: Courtesy of Brett Stewart)
<p>Arapahoe High School student Brett Stewart, left, and classmates on the 50th Anniversary Arapahoe High float in the Homecoming Parade earlier this year.</p>

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Photo: Brett Stewart Arapahoe HighArapahoe High School student Brett Stewart says the shooting at his school last week was like a scene from the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”

"I'll never forget watching kids in this utter panic, trying to find their friends -- including myself," Stewart tells Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.

Stewart was in class when the shots went off.

"We would later find out that the very last shot we heard was the self-inflicted death of the shooter," Stewart says. “But at the time, when you're in the room, you don't know that's the last shot.”

In the days after the shooting, Stewart wrote a commentary for the Denver Post about his experience and was interviewed by The New York Times.

Stewart says that through the interviews, he can provide a more thoughtful account from a student's perspective.

He remembers being scared when he was evacuated from the school.

"No one really knew where everyone was," Stewart says. "There's hundreds of kids there lost and crying -- some of them are screaming and trying to find their parents."

Stewart says he knew the shooter Karl Pierson but they weren't friends.

"He [Pierson] never struck me as the kind of person who would want to do that," Stewart says. "And the way I've kind of made my peace with it is he still wasn't that kind of person when he did it.”

Stewart says he's had trouble reconciling the events of Dec. 13 with the type of person he thought the shooter was.

“Whatever happened in the last 80 seconds of his life, he wasn't himself and that's the best way I can describe what happened," Stewart adds.

According to Stewart, people who want to hurt other people are always going to find a way but he's happy with how the school and local law enforcement authorities responded to the situation at Arapahoe High School.

"When Columbine was happening, all these kids were getting hurt in the library and all the cops were outside and didn't know what to do," Stewart says.

The Sheriff’s deputies in this case were prepared to go in as quickly as possible and handle an active shooter.

Stewart thinks returning to school after the New Year will be difficult.

"How do you go back to a place where something like this happened to you and feel the same way as before?" Stewart asks.

Classes are canceled at Arapahoe until January but students can go back into the building this Thursday and Friday to retrieve belongings.

On the day of the shooting, Stewart says his mom went into "a complete mama-bear freak-out."

"My mom is probably having an uncanny flashback to Columbine," Stewart recalls.

He and his mom placed flowers at the Columbine memorial after the tragedy when Stewart was much younger.

Now, in the wake of the shooting, Stewart says he's found a new appreciation for his classmates.

"Regardless of whether or not you like someone, you don't want to see them be hurt by something like this," Stewart says.

There's a lesson in this for students everywhere, according to Stewart, even if they haven't been affected by a school shooting.

Stewart wrote a song called “Blood Red Skies” after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary one year ago to help cope with what happened.

He's found himself playing the song a lot these days.

Stewart says he wrote “Blood Red Skies” in an effort to create some unity because being together is the only option if society can't prevent school shootings from happening.

He's feeling that sense of unity now: Stewart read online students at a college in Iowa were wearing black and gold, the Arapahoe High School colors.

“That made me feel like our community had expanded beyond the Littleton School District," Stewart says.