On April 20, 1999, the lives of hundreds of students were changed forever when they were at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. On that day, two students killed one teacher and 12 students at the school before killing themselves. More than 20 others were wounded.
The aftermath of that day, including years of dealing with trauma, led to a group of former Columbine students, who now live in Utah, to form “Rebels for Change.” The organization is aimed at increasing awareness of traumatic events, such as school shootings, promoting prevention and providing support for those affected.
“We would get together on the anniversary to support each other,” Tami Diaz, Rebels for Change member, said.
But, after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, 2018, their meetings changed.
“We all came with a feeling that we needed to do something. We can’t just sit around anymore, watching it happen,” Diaz said.
That is when Rebels for Change came to be, named for Columbine High School’s mascot and the pressing need for change to occur.
A need to be prepared
Sarah Bush was a sophomore taking a math class at Columbine High School on the day of the shooting.
“We heard a loud explosion,” she said. But, thinking it was just a senior prank, the class continued working. About 10 minutes later, a teacher ran through the hallway, telling people to get out because someone was shooting.
As Bush and her classmates ran out of the front of the school, she wondered why others were not running out as well. “It was just us, just a few students running out,” she said. As they watched from a park across the street, they saw a few students run out of random doors every couple of minutes. “We realized it was serious when we saw SWAT arrive, then heard more gunshots,” she said.
Then, the waiting began. The reunification process was difficult. Bush and some other students were taken to an elementary school and told to wait on the stage. Other students were taken to various other locations.
“It was an awful, awful feeling of being alone,” Bush said. “I didn’t have any word of my sister.” Bush’s sister was a freshman at Columbine High School. It took more than four hours for Bush and her other family members to find out that her sister was safe.
Bush, who is now a part of Rebels for Change, has found healing in the work that they do.
“We didn’t really talk about our stories growing up,” she said. “It’s been a really long healing process. This has been good for us.”
How they help
Well-organized and practiced reunification plans are part of what Rebels for Change members hope that schools put into place, as well as taking active shooter drills and lockdown drills seriously.
The group also talks to students about noticing signs of impending trouble. Looking back, there were signs that were missed at Columbine High School, according to Diaz. For example, the shooters had written the date “April 20” onto prom posters days before the shooting, she said.
Also, before the day of the shooting, a friend of the shooters turned to Diaz during a class and asked, “Hey, if I gave you a gun, would you shoot me?”
At the time, Diaz thought it was simply an unusual thing to say, but now she realizes it was a sign of the violent mentality of that group of friends.
“When we tell students our stories, the mood changes. They know this is serious,” Bush said. “It definitely brings a sense of reverence.”
Rebels for Change began talking to school district leaders, then branched out to individual schools, church groups, cities, law enforcement, mental health professionals and any others who could benefit from their experiences. They do not charge fees for their presentations.
Diaz said that a lot has changed in the country since Columbine’s school shooting. On that day, students and staff members were not as prepared for a crisis as today.
“We just sat there. We didn’t know what to do,” she said. “We have grown a lot. There has been growth and change.”
Even so, members of Rebels for Change find that there is still a mindset that what happened there will not happen here.
“Our community there was really very much like our community here in Utah,” Bush said.
For more information or to schedule a presentation from Rebels for Change, email Diaz at email@example.com.