Columbine & Virginia Tech Survivors Speak at Radisson in Kalamazoo
Note: This article was written by our colleague Mark Frankhouse and offers his personal observations on the recent symposium about school shootings held in Kalamazoo.
It was an emotional morning today at the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Kalamazoo as Western Michigan University hosted an "Educational Facilities--Preparing for Man-Made Disasters" Breakfast and luncheon seminar. They invited area school superintendents and police chiefs as well as attendees representing all 15 Michigan public universities, private colleges around the state and many of Michigan's 22 community colleges.
The two keynote speakers today were Frank DeAngelis, who served as a Columbine High School educator for 35 years as well as Principle at the time of the shootings, and Kristina Anderson, a Virginia Tech sophomore who survived three bullet wounds in the shooting that took place in 2007.
Mr. DeAngelis opened his speech by simply naming all 13 victims of Columbine High School adding " Not a day goes by that I don't think of the 13. 12 students and Mr. Sanders, a dear friend; and the thing that makes it so difficult is that they were killed by two of my students." DeAngelis elaborated and walked us through the events that took place that day and the support and strength the school showed the weeks, months and years following that day all the way until his retirement in 2014.
Soon after, Kristina Anderson took the stage, confident and strong, giving the detailed experience of what happened the day the shooter broke into her classroom twice and the struggle of watching her classmates and friends murdered. She touched on the strength the school showed and how special forces set up through the school made a massive impact and difference in the number of tragedies that could have potentially happened. But it's something she said at the end of her speech that truly touched me:
She asked us to be thankful for traffic. That even though we are stuck, it's time that other people don't have. It's time for us to think, to reach out to loved ones and friends, to think about what we are going to say and do today. Be thankful you have that time to reflect. So after it was all over and I left for work when I found myself sitting at a red light for 40 minutes waiting for a train to move, I thought.
I thought about all the blessings I have in my life. My job, my friends, the friends that have passed on, my family, the special memories, my beautiful nephews, the great things to come, and I realized that now is our chance to show one another more care.
For students and faculty, paying attention and reaching out to outcasts at school and getting to know them and making a personal connection, as Frank DeAngelis said, is the change schools need to make to help solve these shootings. Show everyone that they are important and you care about them, not just the athletes, band and top honor students.
That's one fraction towards solving this growing problem in Michigan and nationwide. So when you wake up in the morning, think of one way you can positively impact someones' life, as these two did for me this morning. It can change everything.
I'm so lucky I got to shake their hands and thank them for their strength and for sharing their stories. I've met some cool artists since starting in radio 5 years ago, but these two were much more important to me. Thank you for reading this.