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  • Writer's pictureRita Gleason

Resilience in the Face of Tragedy- Series 2

More stories about Columbine survivors, then and now...

Kacey Johnson (nee Ruegsegger) was 17 yrs old and a junior at Columbine in April 1999. She was hiding beneath a table in the library when a bullet from Eric Harris’ gun traversed her hand, shattered her shoulder and passed out the front of her neck. As she moaned in pain, Harris told her to “Quit her bitchin’”. Despite suffering from panic attacks and PTSD, Johnson went on to nursing school and earned her RN. Mobility issues resulting from her injuries curtailed her career but Kacey continues to help people by speaking to other survivors of school shootings. She is also an advocate for tissue donation, something that was vital in enabling surgeons to prevent the loss of Johnson’s badly damaged arm.

Patrick Ireland is perhaps one of the most recognizable Columbine survivors; he is the boy who was pulled from the library window by SWAT team members. Pat hid under a table with friends, Makai Hall and Dan Steepleton, and closed his eyes as Eric and Dylan began shooting up the library. When Pat heard Hall moaning in pain he moved towards him to render aid and was shot twice in the head and once in the foot by Dylan Klebold. Ireland passed in and out of consciousness and despite being paralyzed on one side was eventually able to make his way over to the library window where he was rescued by waiting officers. Pat had surgery to remove one of the bullets from his head but the other was embedded so deeply in his brain, surgeons decided it was safer to leave it there. After a lengthy rehabilitation, Ireland learned how to walk and talk again and even graduated as co-valedictorian in 2000. He went on to a career in finance, married, and started a family. Ireland once said, "We have a choice in how we live our lives. You wake up every single day and have a choice as living as a victim or a victor. When you choose to be a victor, you have so much more positive impact on how people view you and the way you want to live your life.”

Emily Olander (nee Wyant) was a sophomore at Columbine and also in the library at the time of the attack. She hid beneath a table with Cassie Bernall who was murdered by Eric Harris. Harris and Klebold glanced at Emily but did not fire upon her. As they moved away from her area of the library, Bree Pasquale, who had just begged Eric Harris to spare her own life, encouraged Olander to come under her table and then comforted her until they were both able to flee the library. Olander suffered from flashbacks but with counseling and a great support system, she was able to deal with the terror she experienced that day. Olander still lives in CO; she works part-time as a dental hygienist and co-owns Root Shoot Malting, a grain craft malt farm, with her husband.

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