'Why Am I Still Struggling?': How Surviving Columbine Shaped One Woman's LifePlay
When 17 students and staff members were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, one year ago today, hundreds more students joined a terrible club: survivors of a school shooting.
In the year since the tragedy, survivors of the Columbine High School shooting have offered their support to the Parkland students. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Columbine, which at the time was the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history.
Columbine survivor Amy Over is now 38 years old and a mother of two children, but she says, the trauma she suffered still impacts her daily life. Over says the smallest occurrence can trigger her anxiety about the shooting. Once she and a friend, another Columbine survivor, were in a parking garage when a car backfired.
"We dropped to the ground. We literally both just fell to the ground," she tells Here & Now's Robin Young. "And we laughed about it. We were like, 'Wow, 19 years out of our shooting and look what we're doing.' "
Over says the impact of that shooting on her mental health worsened after she had children. When she dropped her daughter off for her first day at preschool, Over says she suffered a panic attack and was rushed to the hospital.
"I thought I was dying. I thought I was literally dying," she says.
The doctor asked Over if anything could have triggered the episode.
"I was like, 'Well, I just dropped my daughter off at school, and I'm a Columbine survivor.' And he was like, 'Well, I think you're having a panic attack,' " she says. "So you know, I can laugh about it now. But it was a really dark time in my life and embarrassing because at that point, I was almost 10 years out of my shooting, and I was thinking, 'Why am I still struggling?' "
On what she remembers about the Columbine shooting
"I was a senior in high school about to graduate. I was just getting ready to play basketball at a junior college, so kind of felt like my life was on track. And [I] said goodbye to my basketball coach, Dave Sanders — he's the one that passed away — went to a few classes and came down for lunch, and that's when the shooting started. Luckily, I saw my coach, and he kind of told us to get away from the windows.
"He told us to get away from the windows and get down. He essentially saved my life, saved hundreds of kids' lives that day, thousands of kids' lives. As soon as I saw my coach tell us to run because one of the gunmen [was] coming in, the other one was outside shooting at us as we ran out.
"It is a nightmare, and I can't imagine what my mom, I do remember calling her and saying there was a shooting at the school, and I was OK. And then I hung up. So my poor mom just can't imagine what she went through."
"I had one Parkland kid ask me when I was working with them last year, 'Why didn't you fight?' And I told them I said, 'We didn't know to fight.' "Amy Over
On telling her daughter about her experience
"I shared with her about my tragedy when she was 11 years old. During one of the anniversaries, I shared with her. She had a lot of questions, and I felt like that was the appropriate age to share that with her. Now I didn't go into detail as to what I saw or anything, but I did tell her that I was in a shooting, and I showed her where I was that day, and she's just a big part of that that day for me now. That's kind of like a day of healing and a day of peace for my family."
On what she wants the Parkland students to know
"I just want them to know that there is a huge support system out there for them when they're ready to to embark on that journey. I want them to take care of themselves. I know that sometimes you think you're OK for years, but eventually if you don't deal with it, it's going to come rear its ugly head. So someday you're going to have to deal with this. I can't believe it's been a year. Their pain that they've endured is, it's too much.
"Just as a mom, even if I wasn't in a mass shooting, I just would tell them to take care of yourself. And this is a lifelong adventure, lifelong journey, a lifelong thing you're going to have to deal with. I love their activism. I do. I had one Parkland kid ask me when I was working with them last year, 'Why didn't you fight?' And I told them I said, 'We didn't know to fight. It was the one of the first mass shootings, so we didn't know to be activists. We didn't have the social media platforms.' I told him I was like, 'I had a pager,' and he's like, 'What's a pager?' So I was like, 'I didn't know to fight.' So I said, 'We pretty much wanted everyone to leave us alone. The media encroached on our privacy. It was very publicized. It was really exhausting and very difficult with cameras in your face all the time. We didn't want that light shined on us at that time.' "
On what she's learned from other survivors
"It's a beautiful thing when you meet another survivor. And I'll get emotional right now because when you finally meet somebody that gets you and understands exactly what you've gone through, there's so much power in that. It's just so powerful when you get to hug another survivor."
Acacia James and James Perkins produced and edited this interview for broadcast with help from Todd Mundt. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.
This segment aired on February 14, 2019.