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25 years after Columbine, trauma shadows survivors of the school shooting

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A quarter of a century after the Columbine High School shooting, the trauma from the attack has remained with survivors
Hours after she escaped the Columbine High School shooting, 14-year-old Missy Mendo slept between her parents in bed, still wearing the shoes she had on when she fled her math class. She wanted to be ready to run.
Twenty-five years later, and with Mendo now a mother herself, the trauma from that horrific day remains close on her heels.
It caught up to her when 60 people were shot dead in 2017 at a country music festival in Las Vegas, a city she had visited a lot while working in the casino industry. Then again in 2022, when 19 students and two teachers were shot and killed in Uvalde, Texas.
Mendo had been filling out her daughter’s pre-kindergarten application when news of the elementary school shooting broke. She read a few lines of a news story about Uvalde, then put her head down and cried.
“It felt like nothing changed,” she recalls thinking.
In the quarter-century since two gunmen at Columbine shot and killed 12 fellow students and a teacher in suburban Denver — an attack that played out on live television and ushered in the modern era of school shootings — the traumas of that day have continued to shadow Mendo and others who were there.
Some needed years to view themselves as Columbine survivors since they were not physically wounded. Yet things like fireworks could still trigger disturbing memories. The aftershocks — often unacknowledged in the years before mental health struggles were more widely recognized — led to some survivors suffering insomnia, dropping out of school, or disengaging from their spouses or families.
Survivors and other members of the community plan to attend a candlelight vigil on the steps of the state’s capitol Friday night, the eve of the shooting’s anniversary.
April is particularly hard for Mendo, 39, whose “brain turns to mashed potatoes” each year. She shows up at dentist appointments early, misplaces her keys, forgets to close the refrigerator door.
She leans on therapy and the understanding of an expanding group of shooting survivors she has met through The Rebels Project, a support group founded by other Columbine survivors following a 2012 shooting when a gunman killed 12 people at a movie theater in the nearby suburb of Aurora. Mendo started seeing a therapist after her child’s first birthday, at the urging of fellow survivor moms.

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