Columbine and its aftermath: "23 years later"
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.
10 people killed were Black. The attack is considered a hate crime (May 14, 2022: Buffalo, NY).
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 Ava 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. Ava’s kindergarten year had her classroom on the main floor, right near the main entrance and the main office. Ava’s mom 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 Ava’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:
1. White-Supremacy - a plague afflicting the world for at least 400 years. But, our country goes through great pains not to teach our children about this. Nor are we educated about our country’s enormous prison system, where Black Americans are incarcerated at 5x the rate of White Americans.
Again, it’s something we don’t want people to be taught about, as it is considered taboo and it is considered offensive to make “Us, white people” feel uncomfortable or remorseful for past or current sins. And, God-forbid a white person be depicted as a terrorist or be randomly shot at by police.
2. COVID-19 - Over 1 million official deaths in the United States since the first recorded case in the country.
3. Gun violence - over 45,000 recorded deaths due to use of guns in the United States in 2020.
4. Domestic violence - 33% of women and 25% of men have experienced violence from an intimate partner.
5. Youth violence - by some counts an average of 12 young people per day die due to homicide.
6. Opioid addictions - 50,000 deaths from opioid addiction recorded in America in 2019.
7. Drug/Alcohol addictions - over 700,000 reported deaths in America from drug/alcohol abuse since the year 2000.
8. Obesity - As of 2017-2018, over 42% of Americans were deemed obese.
I know that if you have read this far, and are still with me, you are probably sympathetic to my cause. But, there might be a few people that you might happen to know that would take issue with part of my list. Even if it isn’t fully verbalized, some people you might know well, could be thinking something along the lines of -
“How could you put White Supremacy as #1?! I know it was only black people that were targeted and killed this time. But, still…” Mass-Shooting in Buffalo, 10 black people killed.
Given my geographic location, and the majority of people that I know, there might be a smaller number of people whom you know that strongly object to #2 on my list. For the people that live or grew up in an Open and Carry State, they might be thinking something along the lines of -
“Gun Violence!? Why doesn’t everyone just own a gun? That would be the best self-defense possible”.
Even if you intimately know a “Gun-Loving American” who claims everyone should own a gun, I for one am very troubled by the further implementation of a police state, even if it is among plain clothed civilians acting as if they are cops.
When people talk about Donald Trump’s January 06 Capitol Insurrection, what that event started to do was it started to normalize political violence. Kids from the ages of 10-17 who will never forget January 06, 2021, will eventually be the older generation. They very well might have already internalized this event, and not think of it as being so horrible.
When I first heard of the mass shooting in a Buffalo Supermarket this past Saturday, I was at my dad’s house with my two small kids; and my first thought was -
“Sad, but not a particularly abnormal Saturday in America”.
When Columbine happened, all teachers and staff at my school all took a day off of teaching and learning for counseling and bereavement. Twenty-three years later, there literally have been way too many mass-shootings in America to count. I have been desensitized. Twenty years after Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine we all have been way past desensitized.
Twenty three years from now, when America looks more like the Hunger Games in Washington DC and across the States, there will be a 40 year old man taking his small kids to visit grandma and grandpa’s house. It will be the year 2045, and the man will get a notification on his phone or maybe a 3-D hologram notification coming out of the ceiling or wall, about another plot by extremists to overthrow the Government. His attitude will be a lot like mine at first and he will say to himself -
“Oh another FUBAR Saturday in America? What else is new? And, what’s the next cartoon I can watch with my kids?”
But, then the man will actually take the time to sit down and take a step back from his busy life, and think of how his daughter’s kindergarten classroom is right next to the main entrance at school. He will be wondering something akin to what I’m wondering right about now:
“Why does America continue to choose to relive another Columbine, over and over and over again?
I hope and pray I’m wrong about what the year 2045 will look like. I will also *“do all that I can do” in my power and within *my communities to make sure I’m wrong. But, I also would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I’m really concerned that I might be right.
“Doing all that I can do” - What does that even mean?*
This means I’m being civically engaged in my community. It means that I am being an active and engaged parent in my kids' life. It means that I’m teaching my students and equipping them with the necessary skills to be on their own path of empowerment and self-discovery. It means I’m also educating myself and others about issues that matter.
This also means that I too am doing the necessary work to take care of me. Which means that I’m living my life where my goals and values are aligned.*
Peace & Love!
Special prayers to all those grieving their loved ones lost due to gun violence. <3 <3 <3