The Hidden Costs of School Shootings


She can’t recall if she had nightmares, she says. Rather, she had a vivid image that she knows wasn’t a true memory, “but it’s like a representation of how I felt.”

In reality, the choir kids had been sitting cross-legged on top of each other to stay away from the office door. “But in my mind, I’m standing up in the middle of all these people sitting down and I’m crying all by myself. That feeling of isolation and being alone started happening right away.”

Martin and the other students finished the academic year at another high school in town. Later, she saw a private counselor four or five times. But looking back, she had minimized her trauma, she says, even though she had feared for her life.

“I wasn’t physically injured, and I didn’t lose a loved one. I thought: ‘Somebody has it worse. I don’t have a right to struggle.’”

But she endured many struggles when she went to a local community college. She had trouble coping emotionally.

“I remember feeling isolated, lonely, angry — oh, my gosh, so angry.”

She developed an eating disorder and dabbled in recreational drugs.

Still, she dismissed the role of trauma.

“I know I’m not OK, but I was refusing to believe that it had to do with Columbine. It had been a year.”

In retrospect, she says, “That’s laughable.”

At college, traumatic memories intruded. About 6 months after the shooting, she was sitting in a college English class when the fire alarm sounded during a routine drill.

“It was the first time I was blindsided by a trigger,” she says. “I just started sobbing in the middle of my English class.”

She remembered the other students staring at her in confusion.

There were other reminders. The Columbine killers had shot many of their victims in the school library. When a professor assigned a paper that involved library research, Martin told him, “I have a really hard time in libraries, particularly school libraries.”

When she tried going into the campus library, she recalls, “I’m sitting there staring at the exit. My heart rate is elevated. There’s no focusing going on because I keep looking at the entrance.”

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