In the Aftermath
This FBI-produced documentary focuses on best practices after school shooting tragedies, including family reunification, dealing with accompanying trauma, and crisis planning. It highlights the difficult journey of recovery while also giving hope to survivors.
Title: Due to the graphic nature of the images and sounds contained in this film, viewer discretion is advised.
Intro and music
Sean Graves: In 1999, I was a freshman at Columbine High School. So we're walking up the dirt hill, and we were kind of taken by two figures at the top of this hill. Wondering, what are we watching here? That’s when they turned around and started shooting at us.
Columbine 911 Caller: And I've got every student in this library—on the floor! You got to stay on the floor!
Frank DeAngelis: I remember the shots being fired, the glass breaking behind me. How am I going to be able to get through this?
Scarlett Lewis: He put his hand on my knee and said, “There’s no easy way to tell you this: Your kid’s dead.”
Newtown 911 Caller: I believe there’s shooting at the front glass, something’s going on.
Joe Samaha: From the short 18 years that she lived, her legacy continues.
Platte Canyon 911 Caller: This is Carole at Platte Canyon. We’ve got somebody with a gun.
AJ DeAndrea: It becomes a new normal. Your universe gets a little smaller.
Sean Graves: Columbine was the first of its scale. Nobody was trained for that. Even the aftermath, nobody knew what to do.
Title: In the Aftermath
Narrator: While school shootings are unspeakably traumatic, what transpires during the first 72 hours following an assault can be just as traumatic, and have a profound impact on a survivor’s recovery. It’s known as Aftermath.
This crucial element of healing is often overlooked, both in the planning of, and the response to, school shootings across the U.S. It’s time to get it right.
Because not only does Aftermath affect a surprising number of people, if mishandled, it can leave scars that last a lifetime. And for some, fighting for their lives all over again.
The stories that follow are from victim families, survivors, first responders, and educators who are sharing their personal journey so that we may better learn the lessons of Aftermath.
But before we can appreciate their journey of recovery, we need to first understand what they are recovering from.
Title: Littleton, Colorado - April 20, 1999 | Columbine High School
Narrator: 15-year-old Sean Graves has been shot six times at Columbine High School. And he is one of the lucky ones.
Sean Graves, Columbine High School Survivor: The bullet entered my spine, popped my vertebrae, and then shot out my hip. That bullet I felt. Immediately I was on the ground, I was paralyzed waist down.
Narrator: Unable to move, Sean hears the two gunmen approach.
Sean Graves: While he's walking over, I can hear his boots, and I start holding my breath. It could have been a minute and a half. It could have been 12 seconds. It felt like an eternity. And I'm just laying there trying to stay as calm as . . . as still as can be.
Narrator: As Sean lays bleeding to death, the gunmen enter the school to commit mass murder.
John McDonald, Executive Director, Jeffco Schools Security & Emergency Management: There’s two really critical times in the lifecycle of an emergency. The first is the first five to 10 minutes of that emergency; that’s the life safety factor. What you do in those five to 10 minutes is gonna save lives.
Narrator: And help is coming, but not as quick as you think.
911 Caller: The school is in a panic, and I am in the library. I've got—students, down! Under the tables, kids! Heads under the tables!
Frank DeAngelis, Former Principal, Columbine High School: I run out of my office, and my worst nightmare becomes a reality, because about 75 yards down the hallway, there’s a gunman coming towards me. I remember the shots being fired, the glass breaking behind me, but we had a fire alarm system in there so loud I could not carry on a conversation.
Heather (Egeland) Martin, Columbine High School Survivor, Executive Director & Co-Founder, The Rebels Project: We were trying to stay away from the door. And hearing the gunshots through—like reverberate through the school and just having that realization like, “Those are gunshots in my school.” And I started crying.
AJ DeAndrea, Deputy Chief, Arvada Police Department: We break in, break the window, go inside. We’re looking for gunmen, unknown location. And we get to the library. And it’s still very vivid in my mind. And the first thing that I remember was the taste of it. There was a lot of blood in the environment. There’s like a metallic taste in the air.
Narrator: The eerily quiet library belies the unspeakable carnage. Police find multiple fatalities and the bodies of the two gunmen, dead by their own hand.
AJ DeAndrea: To think that kids were capable of doing that. I think it absolutely caught us off guard.
Heather Martin: As we walked out, they did take us right by the bodies of the students who had been shot outside. And, I still don’t think that the impact of what happened like hit me. I was still completely in shock.
Narrator: The assault is over, but the clock is ticking for the next 72 hours. The first step is to safely reunite parents with their children. And there’s little room for error.
(Archival footage) News Anchor: We understand that the shooters and still many students unfortunately are probably still inside the school.
Heather Martin: There was some misinformation spread by the media that everyone that was still inside the school was dead. Somehow the rumor spread that I was one of the victims.
Narrator: Unable to reach their daughter, or anyone in charge, Heather’s parents fear the worst. Their only source of information is the media.
(Archival footage) News Anchor: And here come more of them.
(Archival footage) Reporter: Yes, absolutely . . .
Heather Martin: They saw me come out of the building on the news. And my mom said that she remembered what I was wearing that day. So that’s how my dad knew to come get me.
Narrator: While frantic parents are directed to the makeshift reunification center, so is the SWAT team fresh from the crime scene.
(Archival footage) Unnamed Officer: I’ve been a SWAT officer since 1980, and this was clearly the most devastating and traumatic scene that I’ve ever seen.
AJ DeAndrea: You had parents there that began to ask, you know, “Where’s my child? Why are you here?” I mean, there was one individual that called us cowards, because the kids had died in there and yet here we are at the school.
The whole reunification process is difficult, and I think we failed at it at Columbine.
Terri Davie, Deputy Superintendent, Oregon State Police: One area that I have seen repeatedly that is done either improperly or wrong or a failure is the family reunification centers. It’s something that a lot of, especially the police side, we’re not trained on. And we’re trained on responding, taking care of the situation, stopping the threat, getting victims medical help, and then we’re done. But the reality is it doesn’t stop there.
John McDonald: Reunification is where recovery begins. The first 24 hours are critical.
Frank DeAngelis: I was being pulled in so many different directions. And I kept thinking, you know, how am I going to be able to get through this?
Narrator: Since the tragedy at Columbine, many communities working with law enforcement have strengthened school security and adopted programs on prevention.
Yet decades later, serious missteps are still common during the aftermath of a school shooting—including one at an elementary school clear across the country.
Michele Gay: That day at Sandy Hook, something that we never imagined—still really can’t believe—happened.
Title: Newtown, Connecticut – December 14, 2012 | Sandy Hook Elementary School
Michele Gay, Mother of Josephine Gay, Founder & Executive Director, Safe and Sound Schools: It was a regular day, it was a Friday, in fact, close to the holidays and, you know, I got my girls up and out the door to school just like parents all across town were doing.
Scarlett Lewis, Mother of Jesse Lewis, Founder, Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement: It was cold that morning because it was December 14. So there was frost on the side of the car, and I say that because I turned around to give Jesse a hug, and he had written with his little fingernail on the side of my car, “I love you,” and he had drawn hearts in all the windows. Knowing that that was one of life’s moments, I ran into the house, got my phone, and took a couple pictures, and then sent him off.
911 Operator: Newtown 911. What’s the location of your emergency?
911 Caller: Sandy Hook School. I think there is somebody shooting in here, in Sandy Hook School.
911 Operator: Okay, what makes you think that?
911 Caller: Because somebody's got a gun. I caught a glimpse of somebody, they're running down the hallway.
911 Operator: Okay.
911 Caller: They are still running. They're still shooting!
Michele Gay: It was overwhelmed the moment I drove up. But it would only continue to get worse throughout the day.
I saw a line of kids evacuating toward the firehouse. The amazing thing though about that line was that it was my second daughter and her class, so I remember I think probably breathing in my first full breath at that moment, and running up to the line, connecting with her, and then sending her off with her class. I told her that I was going to head off and find her little sister’s class, and then we would figure out what to do from there.
Scarlett Lewis: I was nervous. I parked my car on the side of the road and just ran to the firehouse. So I’m going up to anybody in a uniform saying, you know, “Have you seen my son? His name’s Jesse Lewis.”
Michele Gay: But we weren’t getting any kind of instruction about what was happening next. So, it was really confusing, and I remember being very confused that I couldn’t find any of our administrators anywhere, and it was actually kind of irritating to me.
911 Operator: Now, are they running on the outside or the inside?
911 Caller: I would say that was the outside. (gunshots) There’s still shooting going on, please! (gunshots)
911 Operator: Alright, what about injuries at this time?
911 Caller: I don’t know of any injuries right now.
Scarlett Lewis: I was just frustrated. And like, what? Information, please? Like just tell me what’s going on. How come nobody is saying anything?
Michele Gay: There was a lot of misinformation kind of floating around, so it was a very traumatic place to be, for sure.
Narrator: As the hours tick by, the wall of silence only heightens the fears of parents still waiting for news. Many of them parents of first graders.
Michele Gay: It was beginning to be a smaller group, and a very upset group, a very traumatized group.
Scarlett Lewis: There was so much chaos. There were people yelling and upset and crying.
John McDonald: Reunification is where parents and students see each other again, and families come together.
There’s a right way to manage crisis, there’s a right way to manage recovery, and you do it with kindness and fidelity. You do it with respect for your kids and your staff and your community.
Narrator: The reunification center is also where parents may learn their child did not survive.
Michele Gay: Sometime around 1:30 when I got the first piece of real information, and that was that 20 kids had been killed and six adults alongside them, and I just—I was not prepared for that. I had no, no understanding or expectation that even one person had been killed, so to get that information was, it was devastating.
Mary Vail Ware, Project Director, DOJ Office for Victims of Crime: Death notification is something the survivor will always remember, and how that is delivered can impact them forever. It will impact them forever.
Cheryl Moores, Victim Specialist, FBI Houston: At the moment that you tell a loved one that they have lost someone that’s very important to them, right, they don't really hear much more that you have to say from that point.
Melissa Snow, Victim Specialist, FBI Headquarters: So we want to make sure that that is done in a way that is sensitive and is trauma-informed.
Narrator: And parents need to be told before it hits social media.
Scarlett Lewis: Finally there was a guy, grey hair. I can’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget him. That came up, sat, kneeled down in front of me, and said—put his hand on my knee and said—“There’s no easy way to tell you this: Your kid’s dead.” That guy was part of the riffraff that show up trying to insert themselves or help for potential clients, unfortunately. So then it was out. He’s dead. And so . . . I guess nobody knew what to do. What do you do after that, right?
(Archival news report) Woman: Right now I came to support everybody that unfortunately has . . . were not lucky as I am. I am thankful that God protected my daughter and I’m able to hug her.
Narrator: The enormity of dealing with the aftermath of a mass casualty can overwhelm any well-meaning professional. And any misstep that re-traumatizes families can have a lasting effect on their long-term recovery. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Vanessa Becker, Former Chairman, Board of Directors, Umpqua Community College: Having a plan for recovery and understanding that it’s not just going to stop after the shooter is gone and people are safe. It’s a long-term recovery and response.
What people are experiencing post-violent event is just as important to focus on and plan for as preventing it.
John McDonald: Schools do such an amazing job today around the country of working with law enforcement, trying to build our active shooter programs, and they’re willing to engage and talk about it. But they’re scared to death of the reunification process, and they don’t want to drill it, they don’t want to plan for it; it’s just scary, it’s different. And they know it’s different. So many don’t have a plan, and that’s one of the single biggest failures we see today, all these years later.
Title: Blacksburg, Virginia – April 16, 2007 | Virginia Tech University
Narrator: It is the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history: 33 fatalities, 17 injured. The victims include students and professors.
Joseph Samaha, Father of Reema Samaha, President, VTV Family Outreach Foundation: I had learned about the shootings at Virginia Tech from the media outlets. And we drove down to Blacksburg on I-81 doing 90 miles an hour, and there wasn’t a cop car in sight.
Narrator: Joe’s daughter Reema is a freshman at Virginia Tech, and he hasn’t been able to reach her all day.
The family heads to the reunification center at a campus hotel, where they will be isolated for the next four days.
Joe Samaha: When we walked in the door, they asked why we were there. And our response was, “We’re looking for our daughter.” And they said, “We don’t know where she is, but we do have three places you can call to ask whether she’s in a hospital or at the morgue.” And they handed us a piece of paper with three numbers on them. And they did not bring in the experts to help, the crisis response experts to assist.
Cheryl Moores: With the FBI, victim specialists have been trained via national model in an effort to deliver death notifications with the most compassion and thoughtfulness that we can to a family that’s going to get the news that their loved one is deceased.
You know that you are getting ready to meet a family on one of the worst days of their lives and give them some information that is not easy to get.
Narrator: Psychological first aid could have made all the difference for the Samaha family.
Joe Samaha: A stranger approaches us. A young man, wearing a black shirt, black pants. I remember this vividly. And he approached me and he said, “I'm sorry to tell you, Reema didn’t make it.” And I said, “Who are you?” Because I was taken aback by this person approaching me, giving me death notification of my daughter, and a total stranger. Well, my wife and daughter collapsed in grief.
Cheryl Moores: What you offer them is to be a support to them right there. To let them know that you’re not going to leave until someone else can stay with them. You’re not ever going to leave someone alone.
Joe Samaha: Part of the recovery process is actually communicating with others that have experienced a similar tragedy, to open up and talk to each other.
They brought folks from the administration. They brought folks from the counseling center. These were their colleagues that were killed, too. They were just as traumatized as we were, so that was a bad mix. That was not a healthy mix.
It was the traumatized trying to help the traumatized.
Mary Vail Ware: If you were the institutional victim of a crime, it may not be—it will not be appropriate for you to be the service provider.
If administrators who hid under their desk during a lockdown are then tasked with providing services, and they have to take in other people’s anger and heartbreak, then they don’t have a chance for recovery on their own.
Narrator: Getting the right players involved, with defined roles, is crucial to effectively managing the crisis. The right players being law enforcement, school administrators, and mental health practitioners.
John McDonald: Having a strong crisis mental health team that understands the need for emotional support in a school environment for our kids and our staff—that’s really the important piece. They are true partners in the work of school safety. You can’t do it in isolation.
(Archival footage) President George W. Bush: Schools should be places of safety and sanctuary in learning. When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom and every American community.
Today our nation grieves with those who have lost loved ones at Virginia Tech.
Joe Samaha: I’ll be honest with you, I felt we were comforting them rather them comforting us.
Narrator: As the survivors and victim families slowly come to terms with what transpired, the road to recovery during those first 72 hours will reverberate throughout their lives.
Heather Martin: I remember even that day just wanting everybody to leave me alone. They had no idea what I had just been through. And we were watching it on the news. I got really angry at Bill Clinton for addressing the nation.
(Archival footage) President Bill Clinton: We must do more to reach out to our children and teach them to express their anger and to resolve their conflicts with words not weapons.
Heather Martin: I just was really mad at him for like, “How dare you talk about this. You have no idea.”
Mary Vail Ware: Not sleeping is normal, feeling anxious is normal, maybe being angry is normal.
John McDonald: We see different behaviors occurring from our kids. We see kids that start indulging in some self-harming behavior. They believe that tomorrow may not be here, so I need to live for today.
Narrator: For Sean Graves, it was living for the day that he would walk again.
Sean Graves: I was in, like, a 12-hour surgery the first round, and then it was a 14-hour surgery the second round. Because of my injuries I was a T12 incomplete, which meant I had a colostomy bag.
(Archival footage) Sean Graves: Starting yesterday morning, I could stand up without braces and lock my knees.
Narrator: For some, the wounds may be physical; others, psychological.
Melissa Snow: For a lot of folks after this type of traumatic event, there’s a searching for answers that sometimes may never come, especially if the shooter committed suicide.
Narrator: Experts believe at this stage of recovery that trauma-informed practitioners are a necessity and assigning a police liaison can be the key to healing.
Michele Gay: The respect, the care that we were, you know, given by the law enforcement community was exceptional. It was well above and beyond anything that we ever would have expected, and it was an important part of the recovery process for us.
Mary Vail Ware: Everyone recovers at their own rate, and it is really hard to predict what people will need and when they will need it. What’s important is to get information out early about normal trauma response, so people don’t feel like they’re going crazy or they don’t try to hide it or they don’t try to tough it out, because the services will go away over time. And so it’s important for folks to get help as early as they can.
John McDonald: And you have a finite amount of time to do it, to win back your school, win back your community, before that long-term impact happens.
Dr. Melissa Reeves, Professor & Nationally Certified School Psychologist, Winthrop University: Trauma is treatable. Exposure to a traumatic event does not have to define who you are for the rest of your life, but we need to get more accessibility to services to prevent those negative long-term outcomes, and to really help individuals become productive citizens.
Dr. Stephen Brock, Professor & School Psychology Program Coordinator, California State University: And the cost of untreated trauma is profound.
Narrator: A traumatic event is like a stone cast into still water, impacting everything in its path.
Mary Vail Ware: What we know about mass violence is that it really tears the fabric of the community. It, of course, impacts the victims and the survivors in horrible ways, but it also changes a whole community’s sense of safety and security.
(Archival footage) Woman: We’ll always care. It’s our community; it happened to all of us.
Michele Gay: It’s been eye-opening to learn that tragedies like this, they affect so many people in so many different ways, and that, you know, we all have a responsibility to one another.
Narrator: School shootings can affect teachers who’ve lost students and colleagues, and first responders who’ve witnessed the carnage. Even EMS and medical staff. Often their suffering is overlooked.
John-Michael Keyes: Sometimes that’s the forgotten majority.
Title: Bailey, Colorado - September 27, 2006 | Platte Canyon High School
911 Caller: We’ve got somebody with a gun. It’s a stranger that walked into the room with a gun. It’s not a student.
Narrator: A lone gunman enters Platte Canyon High School and takes seven girls hostage in a classroom. One of them is 16-year-old Emily Keyes.
John-Michael Keyes, Father of Emily Keyes, Executive Director, The "I Love U Guys" Foundation: Over the course of the afternoon, the perpetrator there stopped talking to negotiators, and really it was Emily doing a lot of the talking in the classroom to the SWAT Team negotiators. While she was held hostage, she sent a text message: “I love you guys.” And that was the last text message we got from Emily.
I can tell you that when we lost Emily at Platte Canyon High School, every student in that school was impacted by that. Every parent of every student was impacted. Siblings were impacted. The communities are impacted by these events. They're life-changing experiences.
Narrator: Some may feel immense grief, others may feel guilt for surviving when their friends or their students didn’t.
Frank DeAngelis: It happened on my watch, and I have that guilt. And it’s taken its toll. And I feel when people reach out to me that I have to help them. And I don't know if it’ll help get rid of this guilt feeling.
Dr. Melissa Reeves: For the most part, recovery is the norm in most cases, when the right supports are provided. You cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach to crisis intervention.
Mary Vail Ware: This is where multiple doors of service in a community are really important.
John McDonald: You really have to provide them the resources and allow them the opportunity to talk and validate their fears, but also show them that there is a path towards recovery.
(Archival footage) President Barack Obama: You are not alone in your grief, that our world too has been torn apart. That all across this land of ours, we have wept with you; we’ve pulled our children tight. Newtown, you are not alone.
Vanessa Becker: As a community, you go down the road of trying to support one another, and to rebuild, and to come together to hopefully try to find some kind of light at the end of the tunnel.
Narrator: But it’s hard. A traumatic event such as a school shooting can alter the course of your life in seconds.
Scarlett Lewis: It’s impacted everything, every second, every minute, every hour, every day. Everything’s changed.
Michele Gay: Our lives were instantly changed. A lot of the activity that our family engaged in was around Josephine and her needs—she was the baby in our family. She was a special needs child.
Frank DeAngelis: When does it get back to normal? It does not. You have to redefine what normal is.
AJ DeAndrea: It becomes a new normal. Your universe gets a little smaller. Your perspective becomes definitely different. I used to be the only guy in the country that had been to three school shootings. That’s not the case anymore.
Michele Gay: I didn’t want the new normal. I wanted to go back. But committing to the new normal and committing to forging a way forward together was a big part of finding our way through recovery.
Dr. John Nicoletti, Police Psychologist, Arvada Police Department: You can’t get back to normal when you got ghosts in your head. People realize, “I’ll never be the same as I was before this event,” but there is a new normal, and it can be just as good or better than before.
Joe Samaha: It's a journey. It's a lifetime journey. You learn to live again, and breathe again, and laugh again. You learn to trust again.
Title: A Lifelong Journey of Recovery
Narrator: Survivors, victims’ families, first responders, and teachers have learned firsthand: You can heal from a school shooting, but it could take a lifetime.
Frank DeAngelis: It’s a marathon and not a sprint, and you’re not going to wake up some morning and everything is going to be fine.
Michele Gay: There’s no moment when it’s done. There’s no date on the calendar where you can say “I’ve survived, I’ve beat it.” It is a process and I believe very firmly that it is a lifelong process.
Narrator: A process that many don’t realize they’re struggling with until something triggers a memory, even years later.
Heather Martin: I always felt like my experience was, like, not valid. Like, I didn’t lose a loved one, or I wasn’t physically injured. So I spent years and years minimizing my trauma. I enrolled at a local community college, and I struggled.
One day when I was in class, they did a fire drill, and I hadn’t heard the fire alarm since that day at Columbine. I just started crying. Like, it's the first time I can ever really remember being completely blindsided by a trigger. And I couldn’t control it, and I felt ridiculous. Nobody in my class knew what I had been through, so I just looked like some person who had lost their mind.
Melissa Snow: We know that young people experience the traumatic events differently than adults. And it’s very important that we respond to their needs, whether it’s the types of services that we provide in a trauma-informed response.
Heather Martin: I couldn’t believe that a year later I was still feeling, feeling the effects of trauma. I eventually dropped out of college and started working in the restaurant business.
Dr. Stephen Brock: Traumatic stress is a serious health problem. It's not just a mental health problem. It's a serious health problem. Persons with more significant trauma histories in their childhood lose not just years, but decades of life.
Narrator: Untreated post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to lifelong problems with alcohol or drugs.
Dr. John Nicoletti: A lot of folks who go down the rabbit hole never give themselves permission to heal. They blame themselves, so they actually become a victim rather than a survivor. So permission is so powerful. That resonates with resiliency. Resilient people give themselves permission to do whatever it takes to get back up and running.
(Archival footage) Sean Graves: I’m feeling more free, pretty much. I’m starting to be able to make decisions again like I had before.
Narrator: Even after multiple surgeries and a diagnosis of PTSD, Sean Graves achieved his goal of walking at his graduation from Columbine High School.
(Archival graduation footage) Teacher: Sean Thomas Graves.
Sean Graves: It was nerve-wracking for me to walk across the stage at my graduation. I had a little mantra in my head—it was, “Don’t trip.” And that’s all I kept repeating to myself all the way across the stage. I don’t like tripping in front of people. It makes me feel like I'm weaker than I really am.
Kara Graves, Wife of Sean Graves: When doctors have told him, “No, you can’t do that,” and his outlook is, “Watch me.” And that’s why he is where he is today. And that mindset can be so big on your recovery, and mentally and physically.
Narrator: Resiliency also helped Principal DeAngelis lead Columbine High School for 15 more years.
Resiliency helped Scarlett Lewis paint a memorial to her son and hang it on the outside of her barn for all to see.
Sgt. DeAndrea and his SWAT team had a rough first year after Columbine, but he wasn’t about to quit.
AJ DeAndrea: The individuals that cause this pain and try to devastate our community and kill kids, they’ve won if I choose to walk away. If I choose to let my heart be hardened to a point where this is just a job, there’s no humanity left, right, then they’ve won. So that’s part of what helps me drive forward, is because I’m not going to let them win.
Well, we evolve. Stop the killing, stop the dying, start the healing. And absolutely we need to start the healing, which needs to take place the second that these things begin.
Narrator: Outside of professional help, the best healing can come by something as simple as being with those who share the same experience.
Heather Martin: Knowing that I wasn’t the only one who was struggling was a gift. It was a gift to my recovery.
Narrator: Heather didn’t begin her recovery until she met up with other survivors at the 10-year anniversary of Columbine.
Heather Martin: The 10-year really changed the trajectory of my healing. I re-enrolled in college. I got my bachelor’s in English. It was really an uphill climb for me from that point on.
Michele Gay: No two survivors are the same, no two journeys are the same, no path is the same. But finding others that are walking a path, it’s incredibly meaningful.
Sean Graves: I had my friends that we all experienced something horrific together. And it was because of that that we were able to heal. But it was with each other. To do it on our own, it wouldn’t have come out the same. I wouldn’t be the person that I am today if it wasn’t for that.
Narrator: A husband now and the father of a young child, Sean wants to give back to others.
Sean Graves: For whatever reason that I’m still here and I’ve gone through this, or I’ve experienced this, or I continue to go through this, if I can just reach out and help one person then it’s all worth it.
Narrator: Many of the victims’ families turn their grief into advocacy to help fix the problems they encountered during Aftermath.
Scarlett Lewis: Because I think if Jesse had the courage at 6 years old to save first-grade classmates, that I certainly can have the courage to be part of the solution, to talk about it, to spread a message.
I’m talking about social and emotional learning. I’m talking about teaching kids how to connect in healthy and meaningful ways.
Michele Gay: Josephine was and remains the light of our lives. I would say that about our family, and I would say that about our mission, Safe and Sound Schools.
At Safe and Sound, our mission takes us from prevention through response and all the way through recovery.
Narrator: Others focus solely on improving the experience at reunification centers, where their world first came crashing down.
John-Michael Keyes: In the aftermath of losing Emily, the grief is certainly an aspect, and sometimes it feels like the waves of that don’t stop.
It was 2012 when we introduced the standard reunification method. How do we bring students and parents back together with accountability and maybe even occasionally some psychological first-aid needs?
You know, I'm thinking about what Emily would think about what we’re doing now. Part of me thinks she would just laugh. She was a fireball. “You're doing what?” But I look at it, and Emily actually gave us a voice. And from a classroom, she told us what to say. “I love you guys.”
Title: Where We Go From Here
Frank DeAngelis: If you would have asked me 20 years ago, could a Columbine happen at Columbine? I would have said no, it happens at every other community. But I think what we’ve learned, on any given day it can happen. And so we need to prepare and be more proactive than reactive.
Narrator: The most urgent warning from experts today is that communities, schools, and law enforcement must plan now. Plan for prevention, for school safety, but also plan for the Aftermath.
John McDonald: So there’s something that I think everybody needs to understand, and I hear this from schools all over the country immediately following a tragedy: “We didn’t know who to call. We didn’t know what to do.” And there’s help out there, and there’s a lot of hope out there with you and for you. You’re never on your own. You’re never all alone. You do have support and you’ve got help.
Frank DeAngelis: I think what Columbine represents is hope. Columbine is really that guiding light to show that there is hope after a major event happens in your community.
Narrator: Out of the aftermath of each school shooting, new protocols emerge to help educators, communities, and law enforcement better manage the crisis, the recovery, and the prevention.
Dr. Stephen Brock: PREPaRE is an acronym. It stands for prevent and prepare, reaffirm, evaluate, provide and respond, and examine.
Narrator: The PREPaRE program focuses on prevention, skilled managed response to the crisis, and appropriate psychological response during Aftermath.
Dr. Melissa Reeves: So what the PREPaRE model does is really empowers, and it provides specific training and a skill set that the school-employed mental health professionals, and any of those that really serve on a multi-disciplinary crisis team, have to provide, not only the short term, but those long term supports.
Male: Okay, so we just got notified . . .
Narrator: The Salem-Keizer School District—a highly diverse and low-income community in Oregon—has their own emergency operation system. They focus on the physical as well as the psychological safety of the students, and use intervention to help prevent violent students from reaching a boiling point.
John Van Dreal, Former Director, Salem-Keizer School District: The Salem-Keizer Model is to capture kids in certain circumstances that would suggest that they’re leaning or headed towards violent aggression, and intervene early. And uses positive behavior-shaping and positive incentives rather than punitive measures to help bring kids back in and help them become better citizens. Our goal is to include guardians and parents and the community in any way we can.
We believe that it’s better to have people detectors over metal detectors. And this is everyone—custodians, bus drivers, teachers, administrators, instructional assistants. Everyone is an educator.
Narrator: A successful addition to the Salem-Keizer school structure is security field specialists who keep tabs on students throughout the day. Every day.
Trina Morgan, Security Field Coordinator, Salem-Keizer School District: So as much as we’re observe, monitor, and report, we’re checking locked doors; we’re doing all that tangible stuff. We’re also really involved in managing students and interacting with students, and the ability to engage and build positive relationships with students.
Narrator: In the years since they’ve created this program, school-related violence at Salem-Keizer has dropped dramatically.
Scarlett Lewis: For school safety you have to focus on external as well as internal safety measures.
Narrator: The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement focuses on social-emotional learning and is being taught in all 50 states and was adopted statewide in New Hampshire.
Scarlett Lewis: Social-emotional learning is lessons in the classroom really, but they’re really lessons for humans and how to have healthy relationships, how to manage our emotions, how to be resilient, how to make responsible decisions, how to be aware of what we’re thinking, and how what we think and do affects others. It’s pretty simple. And I say 100 percent that it would have prevented Jesse’s murder.
Title: Programs and Available Resources
Narrator: The Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime provides free resources to school systems, law enforcement, or a community before, during, and after an incident.
Mary Vail Ware: Every day in every community, a victim is falling through the cracks in our systems. They are. So if we actually fill the cracks before the incident, then our communities are going to recover better, to create a little safety net for people after mass violence.
Cheryl Moores: When we come in responding to mass casualty, we are often referred to as kind of the cavalry with the mass amount of resource that we bring into a mass casualty.
Narrator: The FBI’s victim specialists are trained to assist any community during the aftermath of a school shooting. And can even take the lead in setting up reunification centers, family assistance centers, even resiliency centers.
Title: FBI Victim Assistance in the Community
- Reunification Centers: Parents and children are reunited or parents notified of child's death
- Family Assistance Centers: Resources for families and friends of those impacted
- Resiliency Centers: Provide services for the community
Melissa Snow: We have financial resources that can assist alleviating some of the stressors of getting family members in or providing additional support. And we can also assist with providing support in death notifications.
Narrator: In addition, there are 8,000 nonprofits in this country dedicated to curbing school violence, including crisis planning and preparing for Aftermath.
We encourage you to explore which might fit best with your rural or city school community.
Dr. Stephen Brock: There's no such thing as a perfect response, and what we want to be really deliberate about doing is examining the effectiveness of what we have done, and also what we could do as we move forward to prevent future similar crises.
John McDonald: Columbine was our failure to understand a changing world. Twenty years later though, we’re still seeing the same failures in school district responses all over this country. And we’ve had 20 years of learning.
So, our kids deserve a lot better than that. Our communities deserve a lot better than that. We better be willing to start engaging because this threat that we’re facing, school violence, is not going away.
Narrator: If we don’t plan today, then we may end up joining the club of those left behind to grieve.
John-Michael Keyes: So Frank DeAngelis, principal of Columbine High School, in 2006 said something that at the time just irritated me. He said, “Welcome to the club you never wanted to belong to.” I'm still sometimes irritated that I'm in that club, but it was insightful. There is something about people who’ve had some shared experience in this arena that makes us family.
Narrator: Even a member of the SWAT team who tried to save a young girl’s life.
AJ DeAndrea: Emily Keyes’ mother and father, Ellen and John-Michael, have become family for me. And, it is a beautiful thing that has come out of a tragic thing. And yet I still feel like I’m eternally in their debt because we lost their daughter.
Heather Martin: You are never gonna be the same person that you were before the shooting. How can you be, you know? The changes that I’ve made in myself, I’m very proud of it. I'm very proud of who I am today and a lot of that is because of all that I went through in the aftermath of the shooting.
Title: Heather (Egeland) Martin: Columbine Survivor | High School Teacher
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