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I am a high school student who was in a school shooting. AMA

The school shooting was at STEM School Highlands Ranch, and it happened in May of 2019. I still go to this school and I am currently a Junior. (I was a sophomore when the shooting happened)

I find it easier to handle when I talk about it, so I'll respond to as many questions as I can.

Not sure if this counts as complete proof, but here is my ID card from last year. I cut out the bottom because it contained some personal information


January 18th 2020
interview date

How had your school prepared for an active shooter before the shooting? Was it effective? Have drills changed after the shooting?


We had a school resource officer in the building, and we also ran lockdown drills once a semester. We mostly followed standard safety preparations. Drills have changed quite a bit. Before the shooting, a fire drill would be started by the fire alarm going off. Now, our principle tells us through the speakers that a drill will start so we should be prepared for the sudden noise. For our first lockdown drill after the shooting, everyone knew it would occur weeks before it happened. Once the drill was done, school resource officers would go around each room to let us know we were all safe and we could continue the day. They also brought therapy dogs into the high school commons for the rest of the day, which was great.


How did your teacher react? Do you wish the adults you were with acted any differently?


My teacher seemed a bit unsure about if it was a drill or not when the lockdown was called. I thought the teachers were usually informed about lockdown drills even when the students were not. (I might be wrong, so don't quote me on it) My teacher seemed to learn that it wasn't a drill with the rest of us when we looked at the news. He started to have a slight panic attack because he had a son who was in the elementary building. (Elementary, middle, and high school all have separate buildings that are connected by breezeways.) All the adults handled the situation better than I could have asked for. They were all as calm as they could possibly be while trying to make sure we knew what we needed to do. I was so impressed by the first responders and the rest of the people who made sure we were safe and accounted for. Overall, everyone did a great job of keeping us as calm and safe as possible, despite the harsh conditions.


What is the one thing about being in that situation that only you can understand but everyone needs to know?


This is a really good question. Be aware of the people around you. It's not a foolproof strategy, but if you can detect that someone is a bit unstable, you could possibly save lives. Everyone at school is hyper-aware of their fellow peers now because reality hit us and we know another tragedy could happen in our lives again. You never think something like this is going to happen to you until you see it in person. You almost have a safety bubble around you that convinces you that you are immune to it. I'm not saying that you should be afraid, or that everyone around you could snap at any moment. These events are still very unlikely and you will probably be fine. I'm just saying you should know when someone needs help, and get them that help.


Did you see anything stated in the media about the school shooting that wasn't correct or factual?


Watching the event on the news afterwards was a bit weird. I thought it was a bit funny that the media couldn't seem to wrap their heads around the fact that our school is called 'STEM School Highlands Ranch.' They would always say "A STEM School in highlands ranch." I didn't notice any glaring inaccuracies about the coverage, though there was one thing that was wrong when we were still in the building. We learned that it wasn't a drill from checking the news on our phones while still in the classroom. The original reporting said there were three shooters, when it was actually just two. This information was given by the police department, and I'm not sure how they got that number. It was still in the heat of the moment, so I can see how it could have been an error, or maybe they had reason to believe there was a third shooter. Either way, the reporting once the shooters were confirmed to be in custody was fairly accurate.


How are you handling it almost a year later?


It's been hitting me in phases. I have trouble in Concerts, cities, or any place that is a common target for attacks. I'm noticing I'm relatively quick to assume that someone might want to harm me. Bathroom stalls are hard to be in because I can't see anybody who walks in, which just makes me nervous. For some reason, I actually feel safest at school now. Not sure why that is, but its just something I've noticed.


How close were you to the shooting? Lose anyone you knew?


Luckily, I was not super close to the shooting. I was close enough to hear faint shots, but that was before I knew it was an actual threat and not just a drill. (Before the shooting, drills would happen out of nowhere and you had to be ready for them) They were faint enough that I couldn't tell if it was just my paranoia or actual shots, but it definitely was in the back of my mind. I only learned those were indeed shots once my friends looked at the news and realized this wasn't a drill. I didn't personally know either of the shooters nor did I personally know the student that died. Of the eight students injured, I knew two of them. They both made a full recovery.


What is your view on firearms? Do you believe any training you received prior was helpful? What do you think should be done in the future to prepare for and possibly prevent such an event from happening? What do you think the motive of the school shooting at your school was and do you think this is a similar motive to the others?


I have a somewhat liberal view on firearms, though I don't want to get into specifics. I am so thankful for lockdown drills now. It's just a quick thing once a semester to make sure you are prepared. There is so much more that goes into the response of a school shooting that it's pretty incredible you only learn about the lockdown. For example, once SWAT teams have cleared the building, they will go door to door slamming each door open (or busting it down), pointing guns at the students until they determine there aren't any more threats in the room. None of us had any idea this would happen, so it was a bit scary when we saw the classroom door fly open. As for what could be done to prevent this, I don't think there is one clear answer. This is usually the topic of much debate, but I don't find many of the solutions effective. We are required to bring laptops to school, so metal detectors won't work for us. Most other solutions I've heard are easy to avoid. I don't know what would be a good solution to this, which is kind of demoralizing for me. As for the shooter's motivations, I can't say. There were two shooters, both students which apparently did not like the school, but I didn't know a general hatred for a school could make you want to kill the students. (I personally think it is a great school, btw) Honestly, I don't think anybody but the shooters can come up with a possible justification for this. Its hard for me to comprehend that sort of thing, so I don't try to.


How has your school changed since? Besides safety procedures and such, how do they help the students cope with this?


They've changed the ways we do drills. Before the shooting, a fire drill would be started by the fire alarm going off. Now, our principle tells us through the speakers that a drill will start so we should be prepared for the sudden noise. For our first lock down drill after the shooting, everyone knew it would occur weeks before it happened. Once the drill was done, school resource officers would go around each room to let us know we were all safe and we could continue the day. They also brought therapy dogs into the high school commons for the rest of the day, which was great. They've also brought in some extra counselors to talk to if you need them, and they've increased the number of recourse officers.


Who was the shooter? What do you feel was his motive? Was it preventable?


There were two shooters, both of whom were students at the school. I have no clue what their motives could be aside from a hatred for the school and maybe a need for attention. As for whether or not it was preventable, I don't know. There are always 'what if' scenarios, and if everyone completed a million 'what ifs' there would still be a million more.


Hi there. Im so sorry you had to go through this, but so proud of how well you're dealing with it. My son is a freshman and I worry all the time about how he would react in a similar situation. What are some things i can say to help him be prepared in the event something like this happens to him? I dont want to traumatize him,obviously, but i want to help him in the case that it does.


Pay attention during lockdown drills, please. That is your number one survival method in a situation like this. If your in the hallway during the lockdown, get out of the school as fast as you can. If you can't get into a room, anything to distance yourself from the shooter will be effective. Shooters generally know they have limited time, so anything you can do to make it inconvenient for them to come after you will help. (Being in a room that is locked is the best way to do that.)

I also want you to know that your son will be fine. School shootings are very rare, and if your son is in one, it is incredibly unlikely that he will be physically harmed. There is always going to be risk in life. Usually, however, you can assume you won't have to go through a situation like that.


Did you know the shooter and why he done it?


There were two shooters, and I didn't know either of them. As for why they did it, I can't say. They didn't like the school, but I can't imagine how that would justify killing fellow students. Maybe it was for attention? That's the only possible explanation I can come up with.


How are you doing now? Do you have a lot of anxiety or nightmares? I am so sorry, but so glad you are safe and were not injured.


I remember I had a nightmare just after the shooting, but my dreams have luckily been unaffected by the shooting since then. I do get anxiety around other people in public spaces and events. I do get a bit triggered by certain things happening as well. I went to go see Godzilla, King of Monsters, and some of the screams when people were dying were a bit too much for me. If I'm in a public space, I will sometimes check to see where my exits and escape points are. I am mostly able to make it through these things though without visibly having issues, though. I've been making a decent recovery, and I don't think this will leave large lasting scars on me, only small ones. I'm loosing the nack where I think everyone could be a threat, which is good. I think my recovery is helped by the fact that everything at school feels so normal again. I could go through a week at school without remembering the shooting, and I wouldn't feel like anything is different. (Aside from some extra things the school is doing to help kids recover.) In general day to day life, it feels normal, which I am relieved about.


Omg I'm glad you're OK! What happened to the school days after? Was it shut down for cleaning, or did class resume tbe next day?


The shooting happened about two weeks before summer break. For the next week, we didn't have school. About hallway through the week we were off, we were able to come back into the building to get our stuff. After the week of break, we came back for 20 minutes per class. (We normally work on a block schedule, with 4 classes, 90 minutes each day, then another four classes for 90 minutes the next day.) The point of the 20 minutes per class was to check up on everyone and say goodbye for the summer. They didn't want a shooting to be the last thing we remember of school that year.

One of the shooters walked into the class they were in with a gun, which is where the most violence happened. That room has been completely blocked off and it is still being remodeled. Technically, we didn't have any more schooling after that for the rest of the year. We didn't have to take finals so....yay?


Have your parents or family talked to you about their perspective? As a parent, any harm (including suffering like PTSD) is my worst nightmare.


They have talked about their perspective. My mom works right across the street, and she was in a meeting when they went on lockdown. One of her coworkers came into the room to inform everyone they were on lockout because of a lockdown across the street at the school. When my mom told them I was at that school, they ended the meeting. Once we were outside the building, they had us wait across the street from the school for buses to come pick us up to take us to the rec center. There we could be picked up by our parents. The area across the street we were at was right in front of my mom's building. She watched us as we mingled and waited for the buses. My dad was driving home when he saw a line of police cars whip by him. He went home and just hit refresh on the news page every minute. About five seconds after the lockdown had started, my phone died. (I forgot to charge it the night before.) I was able to use a friends phone to tell my mom I was okay, and she spent the next half hour texting everyone she knew that I was alive. As for my PTSD, its bearable. I get nervous and triggered when certain things happen, but its not severe. Of course, I wasn't right next to the gunshots, so I am probably handling it better than some others. I definitely will still be able to make it through life without a problem, which is good.


How would you grade your school in general? Is everything normal there or is anything odd?


I personally love my school. It's quite different from most schools, mostly in culture. We're all nerds and we're all socially awkward (Except when talking to other nerds). We also don't have designated social groups, although I think that just comes with being a smaller school. We have a small popular group, though they're not your stereotypical douchebags. Overall, it's a great community, and we're closer than ever now.


Do you think your experience has changed the way you think about firearms being so available in USA society? Do you favor tighter controls or do you think that having your own gun is the answer to firearm safety?


I've always had a rather liberal view on firearms, and that hasn't changed. Given that America is the only country with this problem, I find it hard to think of more effective solutions than what has worked in other countries.


Considering how frequent these school shootings seem to happen: How does it feel knowing you're one of probably thousands of students who are in the same position?


It feels really depressing to think about, especially when talking about elementary school kids. In order to clear out each room, a SWAT team would bust in while screaming at the kids and causing chaos until they determined there were no threats into the room. While us high schoolers and middle schoolers can understand what is going on, the elementary kids don't even know what a SWAT team is. All they know is big scary men busted down there door and started screaming at them. When you experience life-threatening situations at such a young age, you get scars that last for your entire life. It's so depressing to think that friends of friends have probably gone through the same shit and that it just become part of our everyday lives. I've somewhat become desensitized to seeing another mass shooting on the news, which just shows how our society has developed.


Do you and the other students take advantage of the counselors? Do you or anyone you know attend therapy sessions outside of school?


Yes, most of us took advantage of councilors in and out of school. This happened two weeks before school was supposed to let out for summer, so the school mostly provided us with counselors and other help we could get outside of school. For the week we went back to give our goodbyes to everyone, they had extra counselors on site for us to talk to. As for me, my mom worked right across the street, and her company had brought in some counselors for STEM students to go to if they needed. I got help there.


How much where you involved? As in where you near/saw the horror that happened?

Regarding the first one, how do people who where injured/near people injured react to people who was not at the school making claims of being involved.

Have you thought about taking first aid class such as StopTheBleed? I'm not sure if that might open up old wounds for you (probably should think of a better analogy) but it also might help you feel more confident in knowing how to help injured people.


I was close enough to hear the gunshots in the distance, but not close enough to be in any immediate danger.

I haven't heard of any cases of people claiming to be near it when they weren't. Everyone has been fairly humble about their involvement in the shooting, at least in regards to where they were.

I have thought about taking self-defense classes, and I will probably follow through with that. Some first aid classes would also be good.


I’m someone who has a low-key paranoia about being involved in a shooting, or any kind of random violence. What does it feel like in the moment it’s happening? Do you just shut down or do you still feel rational?


It feels very surreal. It takes a while for you to subconsciously realize it happened. (it took about a week for reality to hit me) It almost feels like you're in a movie during and the few days after, which is weird. I generally felt rational during the moment, though I think that depends on the person. I definitely was aware of my surroundings and the sounds outside the door. The police were outside my door around the same time I learned that it was real, but I had been having thoughts of it being real before that. I think adrenaline was the thing that kept me going.


How do you feel about Eminem’s new song “Darkness”? (For those of you who haven’t seen the video, it’s about the Las Vegas shooter and raising awareness for school + mass shootings)


I don't think I know about Eminem to form a reasonable opinion on his political stances. It could be a cheap way to sell an album or it could be that he really cares. I just haven't paid attention to him recently so I wouldn't know.


As a high schooler myself, what should you do in the event of a shooting? What would you change about school security and/or protocol for shootings?


Just get into a room that will be locked. If you are already in a room when the lock down is called, you will be relatively safe. Locked doors are a massive pain for shooters to get through, and most of them know they only have about two minutes. They usually wont even try to get into locked rooms.

Personally, I wouldn't change anything about the protocols for shootings. If your in the hallway, get out of the school. If your in a room, lock the door. That is usually enough for the post lock down announcement. However, shots have to be fired or someone has to see a gun in order for one to be called, and at that point everyone could be out and about. A solution for that should probably come in the form of making sure the shooting don't happen in the first place. I don't want to get into that though, as the topic is usually the subject of very polar debate.


Were you able to remain calm while it was happening ?


Definitely not. I and most people in the room, were crying. I started crying about halfway through it, even when the police were outside. It wasn't because I thought I was in danger, (the police were outside my door) rather the pressure and stress of what was happening just made me break. I was still crying when the SWAT team busted into our room, and I was still crying when I walked out of the building. It wasn't a fun time.

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