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We are proud to celebrate 40 years!

25 years after the Columbine shooting: What life now looks like for one survivor

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This week marks 25 years since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. It shocked the world at the time, yet there have been many more such shootings since then. One Columbine survivor has made it her life's mission to help others feel safer. Colorado Public Radio's Ryan Warner has her story.

KRISTA HANLEY: All right. Anyone who wants to stand and practice this while standing can.

RYAN WARNER, BYLINE: At a senior community in Denver, a self-defense course is underway. About a dozen people, some with walkers, are learning to respond to an aggressor. One of their teachers is Krista Hanley, who shares some of her biography.

HANLEY: I am a survivor of the Columbine shooting.

WARNER: Hanley was in Columbine's cafeteria that day. She was friends with the shooters - facts she hid for a long time.

HANLEY: I went to college in 2000, so a year later. And it was such a notorious event that I felt like I didn't want to burden other people with the fact of my trauma. And I didn't want to center myself in conversations. I also didn't want to be known as that Columbine girl - lying about where I went to school, not admitting when I was affected by subsequent shootings, I think also not seeking help, not thinking I deserved therapy because I wasn't hurt.

WARNER: The mass shooting, televised in real time, knocked her off course, and it took her a long time to chart a new one. But she has, co-founding Safer Together.

HANLEY: Make sure you have balance.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Make sure you have balance.

HANLEY: Check your balance.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All right.

WARNER: To borrow from the title of your organization - we are safer together - I suppose the goal is safer...

HANLEY: Yes.

WARNER: ...Never fully safe?

HANLEY: I don't know that in this America today, we can be fully safe. You know, our organization is about community safety. Individual safety is great, but no one person is safe if your community isn't safe. We really believe in things like bystander intervention, you know, helping your neighbors, joining groups like emergency preparedness organizations so that you can build safety as a community. Get to know your neighbors. Get to know your children's school teachers. Talk about safety. Bring it out into the light.

WARNER: These trainings are trauma informed. No videos of mock attacks with actors falling to the ground.

HANLEY: I don't think we need to see these things in order to know that this is serious. I don't think we need to play the sounds and show the weapons and show these dramatic reenactments of shootings.

WARNER: This month especially, Hanley will manage her own trauma.

HANLEY: There is something that's cellular, where our bodies remember trauma. And so for me, every year around April, around the time when everyone is celebrating the spring, my body starts to feel anxious. And it took me a long time to connect that with my trauma, frankly, because I was pushing it all down and ignoring it. But now I recognize what's happening.

WARNER: And it will be a chance, she says, to honor those who didn't make it out that day. The group Everytown for Gun Safety has tracked incidents of gun fire at schools in the U.S. since 2013. It says there have been more than 1,200 such incidents, resulting in more than 400 deaths and nearly 900 injuries.

For NPR News, I'm Ryan Warner in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARTIN JACOBY'S "TOGETHER WE WILL LIVE FOREVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ryan Warner