Columbine and its aftermath: "23 years later"
9) May 19, 2019 in many ways - was the sad epilogue to the horrible tragedy of April 20, 1999
Austin Eubanks (October 7, 1981 - May 19, 2019) died exactly three year ago to the day, in his home in Steamboat Colorado, presumably due to a drug-overdose. He was a graduate of Columbine High School, (Class of 2000), and is survived by his two children.
Austin Eubanks had an opioid addiction that he spoke openly about, trying to educate the public about this epidemic and crisis plaguing (rural) America.
The difference between Austin’s story and countless other people’s addiction to opioids, is the fact that Austin got hooked on these drugs within minutes after suffering a few gunshot wounds to his hand and knee. He was a 17 year old junior in high school, when this happened.
“As a result of my injuries, I was pretty significantly medicated about 45 minutes after being shot. I remember immediately being drawn to that feeling, because it took the emotion away,” he said of the pain medication.” - Amir Vera CNN https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/18/us/columbine-survivor-found-dead/index.html
The pain he felt in his hand and knee was “minor” compared to the pain in his heart, after witnessing his closest friend get shot and killed right in front of him. Twenty years later, at the age of 37, Austin Eubanks died while still trying to numb away the enormous pain and trauma he felt on that fateful day at Columbine High school on April 20th 1999.
I came across Austin Eubanks' life-story exactly three years ago, and it inspired me to write. Much like Austin, I too was a 17 year old junior in high school in 1999. I thought it was really important to commemorate his life as well as pay my respects for the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School Massacre. Well, life got busy and I completely forgot about this draft after having only written little more than an outline of this piece.
Now it is 23 years later, instead of 20. And sadly this piece that was in my draft files for over three years is still just as relevant and current today as it was 3 years ago, 2 years ago, or even 1 year ago. In fact I thought that just one month after Austin Eubanks’ death, this piece would no longer be relevant to write about.
Clearly that was really naïve of me. That or just plain laziness on my part.
3 disturbing news headlines just this year!
1- 10 people killed were Black. The attack is considered a hate crime (May 14, 2022: Buffalo, NY).
2- Suspect faces multiple charges in a deadly California church shooting (May 17, 2022)
As teachers, and as people we talk a lot about how this pandemic has messed up school aged children for a whole generation. Educational research shows among the early primary grades that more than 1 in 3 children need intensive reading help just to keep pace with their grade reading level. Psychological damage is felt far and wide due to this plague. We are a very sick nation! And yet, we speak nothing of the 187,000 students who have been psychologically damaged by witnessing school shootings, dating as far back as Columbine in 1999 to the Stoneman Douglas/Parkland Massacre on February 14, 2018.
When my older daughter first entered kindergarten in September of 2019, it was her 3rd year at that elementary school. She spent two years of pre-k in the same classroom, on the bottom floor of the school. Her kindergarten year had her classroom on the main floor, right near the main entrance and the main office. My daughter’s mother called me after the first day of school to tell me the news as my heart sank.
My first year teaching at my current school, I was so happy to be on the second floor, away from the entrance, as another first year teacher bemoaned to me how her class is literally right by the courtyard, where strangers can just look into her classroom. In 1998, people were not thinking of where classrooms are located within the building. Now, it’s a strategic move to have a teacher’s classroom be far away from any type of public or main entrance.
I can’t help but think of the fear I initially felt when I found out my daughter’s classroom in kindergarten would be right by the main entrance. And the fact that my fear as a parent (living in this era we live in) is so palpable, so understandable, and somehow so normal.
Whether it is in a school or university or at a music festival at a grocery store or in a movie theater, or at a church, or a synagogue or an intramural softball game, or a constituents meeting or even at the front door of someone’s home…(you get the idea). People have been killed by guns in what used to be considered among the safest of places and spaces.
This is a very sick nation afflicted by a lot of plagues. I can’t name all of them, but here are a number of plagues that come to my mind right away: