15 Years After Columbine Shooting -- Reflections From Survivors

04/15/2014 04:00 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2014

Whenever I visit my mom in Littleton, Colo., I'll often drive past Columbine High School while running errands around town. A sobering feeling always hits as my mind momentarily flashes back to April 20, 1999.

I was a my trigonometry class...the fire alarm screeched...we exited and gathered in the park across the street...chaotic rumors flew about a shooting...we ran...I met a friend at the elementary school...she had blood on her pants; it wasn't 15-year-old sister was trapped in a science classroom with 60 others as my basketball coach, who laid on the floor and slowly bled to death from gunshot wounds...the boy who lived across the street didn't come home from school.

Fifteen years ago, we had a really bad day that left 15 people dead, 25 wounded and a community, even the nation, shaken by the senseless and inexplicable violence. I've written much and continue to write about Columbine, trying to bring meaning and to recognize the growth and healing that has emerged since the tragedy.

Recently, the Denver Post ran an article about a Columbine alumni who reportedly became withdrawn after the shooting, eventually turning to drugs and running away from home. My heart hurt for her and her family as the story caused me to reflect.

Although a lot of work, processing and counseling was necessary, so many of my classmates were able to deal with the tragedy in a way that led to deeper empathy, resilience and productive lives. At the same time, I know others who continue to be impacted in crippling ways that hold them back from finding joy or meaning.

Boiling this puzzling contrast down into a question: Why do some thrive while others stumble? Is it a simple matter of making a personal choice, choosing between surrender versus overcoming or despair versus happiness?

All of us, at some point in our lives, encounter Columbine moments -- challenging life experiences designed to change our hearts. It's never easy stepping through a refiner's fire, but constructive qualities like patience, strength and wisdom are often the result. Hoping to share a helpful perspective, I reached out to a few thriving classmates, asking what lessons they learned from Columbine.

Crystal Woodman Miller

Fifteen years ago, as I crouched under a table in the library at Columbine High School, waiting to die, one comforting thought crossed my mind -- I will get out of here alive. Hope would become an anchor and would give me courage to stay the course when I felt like giving up. For me personally, my hope was rooted in my faith in Jesus. Hope gave me the freedom to fully live again, the courage to heal, to share my story, to go to college, pursue my dreams, get married, have children and learn the importance of helping others.

Just months after April 20, 1999, I was invited to go to war-torn Kosovo to bring gifts and help children and families affected by war. I was struck by how much they had lost and suffered, but not only did they refuse to give up, they thrived.

Hiding under the table in the library at Columbine lasted seven and a half minutes, I had a nice home to return to, a family who loved and cared me, warm food, clean water, and the gift of my life. I became conscious of the fact, that there are people around the world who are struggling far worse than myself; who lived a tragedy 24/7. I began traveling around the world to help others in need. While I helped others, they in turn changed me. Their lives, their stories, their struggle, their perseverance, and their love impacted me so deeply that I knew I was going to be okay.

Lynsey Hansen Humphries

We often forget how fragile life is and take the most important people in our lives for granted. We should always treat those around us whether they be family, friends or strangers as if it were their last day. On April 20, 1999, we were not given the opportunity to say goodbye to our fellow classmates as they were taken so violently from us.

When my step-father was diagnosed with cancer I thought we would not have much time left with him. Sometimes we would forget about his cancer because he didn't look or act "sick," but then he would start a new drug or another round of treatment and reality would sink back in. My son seemed to remember that his papa would be gone all too soon, and he would spend hours on end with him. It was always a reminder to the rest of us that we should be doing the same.

Over the last 15 years it has been through serving my family and others around me that I have come to realize and appreciate life. There is so much joy I have come to see in my own life when I step out of my comfort zone and serve. It is through serving that you truly learn to love another and see the beauty that life has to offer.

I believe in a greater plan for our lives and that inspiration always comes at the time it's most needed. With an optimistic outlook, life has a way of working itself out. One of creation's greatest lessons is knowing that sunlight pushes darkness away, every day, every time.

A religious leader, Neil Anderson, recently spoke about trees that grow up in windy environments. The wind does one of two things, stimulate the roots to grow faster while spreading farther and forcing the tree to create cell structures that make the trunk and branches thicker. These strong roots and branches protect the tree from future winds.

Anderson reminds us:

"You are infinitely more precious to God than a tree. You are His son or His daughter. He made your spirit strong and capable of being resilient to the whirlwinds of life. How do you prepare? Remember it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, it shall have no power to drag you down because of the rock upon which ye are built."