McWilliams: Columbine shooting anniversary is for remembering victims

Leta McWilliams

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Today is the anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. This school shooting shook the nation, and since then mass shootings have become a regular occurrence in the United States.

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We need to take the time to remember the survivors of Columbine as well as the survivors of other mass shootings. These people are not crisis actors, and we cannot keep belittling the horrific events they’ve gone through in order to push our own political agendas.

Chelsea Sobolik, a student at Colorado State University, is a survivor of the Aurora Theater Shooting that happened in 2012. As someone that experienced and survived a mass shooting, she believes the way our country handles mass shootings isn’t focused on helping the survivors.

“The public’s responses to mass shootings has definitely changed quite a bit, particularly since Columbine,” Sobolik said. “I was only 10 when Columbine happened and even I can recall it being a tragic event that shook the entire nation. Now it seems that as a nation, we have sadly grown accustomed to school shootings-or any mass shooting, happening on a regular basis. People often forget about one when the next occurs, so many survivors don’t have enough public support or people around to validate their experiences. Just because these shootings keep happening doesn’t make any one of them less significant – especially to a survivor.”

The idea that the mass shootings survivors advocating for change are crisis actors is incredibly insensitive and belittling the terrible experience they’ve been through. Many people are accusing the kids of the Parkland School Shooting of being crisis actors, solely working with the purpose to sway the public for gun reform.

There’s a difference between disagreeing with these kids’ push for gun control and making them victims of hate crimes. They’ve been through an experience that many of us will never understand, and posting tweets using these kids as target practice or posting fake pictures of them ripping up the Constitution is disgusting. Their experience and healing should be the priority of the public, not hurting them to push a political agenda.

“Being a survivor myself, I know that a lot of our needs in the aftermath of a shooting tend to get buried underneath the gun issue,” Sobolik said. “We need to make sure survivors’ mental and emotional needs are not getting left behind. More than anything, they need to feel empowered to heal.”

“Being a survivor myself, I know that a lot of our needs in the aftermath of a shooting tend to get buried underneath the gun issue. We need to make sure survivors’ mental and emotional needs are not getting left behind. More than anything, they need to feel empowered to heal.”-Chelsea Sobolik

Sobolik believes one of the best things we can do is follow up with survivors and give them a voice to reach out to new victims of mass shootings.

“Being able to find the will to continue on with life as mass shooting survivors means constantly having to combat PTSD, anxiety, triggers, and invisible mental wounds is a journey that few fully understand,” Sobolik said. “It has probably been the most challenging thing my friends and I have had to do, but within these challenges are stories of hope, connection, empowerment, and resilience, among many other things… Survivors who are years into their journey have strong voices that I think new survivors could feel comforted by.”

As a way of paying it forward and staying reminded of the needs of survivors, Sobolik is working as Director of Communication for an organization called The Rebels Project. Founded by Columbine survivors after the Aurora Theater shooting, The Rebels Project is meant for survivors to get help from people who’ve experienced the same tragedy.

The Rebels Project is a nonprofit dedicated to supporting survivors of mass tragedy throughout their healing, and their leadership team is made up entirely of survivors from several different communities.

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“We do not go the political route, but instead connect with and validate survivors and their unique experiences so that they don’t feel alone in their process,” Sobolik said. “This approach, in my mind, is what the growing community of survivors needs.”

Leta McWilliams can be reached at letters@collegian and online at @LetaMcWilliams