Columbine parent: After trauma, survival is possible

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(Photo: Courtesy of David Keyzer)
A ribbon laid at the memorial to the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. Last week’s shooting at Arapahoe High School took place about 10 miles from Columbine.</p>

Photo: Columbine memorialLast Friday's shooting at Arapahoe High School in Centennial reminded many Coloradans of the shootings at Columbine High School in nearby Littleton almost 15 years ago.

Carolyn Lunsford Mears' son was a student at Columbine at the time and he was trapped for hours in the school during the shooting. Mears has a message for students, parents and community members experiencing trauma in the wake of the events at Arapahoe High School: It's possible to keep going.

"I wish I had known then that surviving is possible," Mears told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. "That the future would someday look liveable again."

Mears' experience living through the Columbine tragedy inspired her to get her Ph.D in education and write her dissertation on trauma.

Last year, Mears put together a collection of essays called “Reclaiming School in the Aftermath of Trauma." (Read a chapter from the book).

Contributors include survivors of Columbine, the Virginia Tech shootings and, in another example of trauma, educators in New Orleans whose students were walloped by Hurricane Katrina.

Arapahoe High School is closed Monday and Mears says before it reopens, students and school employees might be allowed to walk through the building.

"I think it's become a model [after Columbine] to have the building open in advance before schooling starts," Mears says. This allows students and school employees to acclimate to being in the facility again.

Mears says the shooting at Arapahoe will affect people in different ways and a person's level of trauma isn't necessarily tied to how close that person was to a tragedy.

"Some of the hardest to deal with traumas can come even if you weren't even there," Mars says. "[The trauma] threatens our view of living when we know that suddenly an attack can happen that we're vulnerable to."

In the aftermath of the shooting at Columbine, Mears says she got help from people who had experienced trauma and loss in other areas of the country and now she's paying it forward. She recently started the Sandy Hook Columbine Cooperative with two parents who moved to Denver soon after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December.

"What we want to do is help prepare individuals and communities for any type of tragedy," Mears says.

The foundation will try to educate people about trauma and how to treat it, and provide support "of other survivors who have trancended these experiences."