THE BLOG
04/27/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hope and Prayer From a School Shooting's Aftermath

Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

By: Erin Bilir

It takes only 272 steps to get from the front door of Deer Creek Middle School to 13-year-old Savannah's house. But on Tuesday, February 23, those 272 steps felt more like miles for Savannah and her sister Makayla.

For Savannah, it was supposed to be just another Tuesday. She woke up, got dressed, and ate a large bowl of Grape Nuts cereal with extra sugar before driving to school with her dad and 12-year-old sister Makayla. At school, Savannah went through her daily routine, chatting with friends, working on homework, and handing in assignments. Everything at Deer Creek seemed to be going according to business as usual.

At about 3 p.m., just as Savannah and her sister began walking home from school, the sound of gunshots pierced the air. Savannah recognized the sound immediately, remembering it from a camping trip earlier that year during which she'd practiced shooting a rifle at the surrounding pine trees. As Savannah turned around towards the noise, she saw children and adults, running towards the parking lot and screaming. Savannah never saw the shooter, but something told her to run. She felt strangely calm as she grabbed her sister by the hand and started running towards her dad's house. "It's okay, It's okay, It's going to be okay" Savannah repeated over and over, trying to calm her terrified sister.

Shortly after she got home, Savannah got a call from her friend Kelly. She was in hysterics. "Matt got shot, Matt got shot," she told her. Matt had been Savannah's lab partner in science class, a nice kid who loved skateboarding and whose closest friends called him "Frenchie" because he was born in France. We know now he survived, but at that moment, for all Savannah knew, he could have been dead.

Savannah tells me that the tragedy of the shooting at Deer Creek feels surreal, like a bad dream that she's sure she will wake up from any second. She tells me that she replays the day's events over and over in her mind as she and her sister watch policemen search through the field behind their house, putting up yellow crime scene tape and searching for evidence.

This isn't the first time that this community has had a shock of this sort. Exactly ten months and four days ago, I was sitting bleary-eyed at my computer writing a piece to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the shooting at Columbine, remembering how scary it was and how many loved ones had been lost. Today, as I speak to Savannah over the phone, as I hear her recount the day's events and as I listen to the aching sound in her voice, I am reminded of that day when so many of us lost so much: April 20, 1999. Although Savannah was only about four when the shooting at Columbine High School took place, she definitely sees parallels between that event and what happened at Deer Creek. "It's just so close," Savannah tells me and she sighs deeply, sounding, in that moment, incredibly old and weary.

And yet, as with Columbine, amidst the genuine horror, there is also triumph. There is the heroism of one man, Savannah's math teacher Dr. Benke, who tackled the shooter to the ground, a man who Savannah tells me assured his students that if anything should ever threaten their safety, he would do anything in his power to protect them. There is the bravery of parents like Savannah's mother, who never let her daughters see the worry on her face as she came to pick them up. And then, of course, there is the optimism of students like Savannah. When I ask her if she has taken anything from her experience, her response is clear: "Hope." "You can't keep it bottled up inside you until you go crazy," Savannah tells me, "You have to stay strong. You have to have hope."

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