How I Healed from a School Shooting. ~ Cassandra Smith

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Patrick He

Like most Americans right now, I am having a very hard time processing all of this.

I think we try to understand these kinds of horrific tragedies by asking “why?” What could have possibly motivated someone to take the lives of innocent people?

I’ve been looking for an answer to this question since fourth grade, and I don’t think we will never find an answer that satisfies us.

On April 20, 1999, I was sitting in an elementary school classroom across the street from Columbine High School. Over the P.A. system, the principal announced the school was on “lockdown” and instructed teachers to cover the windows with construction paper. Soon, we could hear teenagers screaming and crying in the halls after they had been bused out of Columbine to my elementary school.

None of us knew what was happening at first—only that it was something terrible. Then, one of my classmates learned her sister had been shot. I think it was this exact moment that taught me how precious life is.

The scene at my elementary school was utter chaos. Parents of both elementary and high school students flooded the entrance; their faces filled with sheer terror as they desperately searched for their children through a barricade of S.W.A.T. team officers.

When I look at the pictures coming from Sandy Hook today, I know the parents and children are feeling the same terror, grief and confusion as we did in Littleton 13 years ago.

Having lived through the aftermath of such a tragedy, I know the community in Newtown has an extremely difficult time ahead of them as well. It is so hard to know how to begin to process emotions and heal from a place of deep suffering.

One thing I do know is that healing takes a community.

No one is going to be able to explain what happened today in a way that makes it okay. We will not find comfort by learning the shooter’s motivations, and we will not find comfort in screaming for stricter gun control.

We will find comfort in each other. 

We can heal by grieving together, talking together and providing an ear for anyone who is hurting. We find comfort in knowing our feelings of grief and confusion are not only our own.

I know I will never fully understand what made the young men at Columbine or Sandy Hook decide to take the lives of innocent people. But I also know that I do not need to understand in order to heal. We heal by showing our suffering to others and giving others space to suffer with us.

Together, we can and will get through this.


Cassandra Smith was formerly an editorial intern at elephant journal.  She is a fifth generation Colorado native who believes dance has the potential to liberate human consciousness from its cultural prison.  Cassandra formerly trained at Boston Ballet and is currently a senior at University of Colorado Boulder studying journalism, sociology and philosophy. Visit her website at, and follow her on Twitter.


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17 Responses to “How I Healed from a School Shooting. ~ Cassandra Smith”

  1. Cassie, thank you so much. Much love. xo

  2. […] to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,‘ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still […]

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Cassie.

  4. laydowninthetallgrass says:

    Beautiful Cassie, thank you. ~ Bryonie xo

  5. clare says:

    Thank you, cassie.

  6. balletnut says:

    May God bless you and keep you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and memories.

  7. […] my heart sank learning of this great tragedy. I watched as our President paused in tears over our Nation’s terrible loss. In that moment, as most parents, I began that process of searching for just the right words to […]

  8. […] like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single *victim* of Columbine? Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want […]

  9. cassandralanesmith says:

    Thank you all so much for reading.

  10. mike says:

    Australias last mass shooting was over 20 years ago. We decided that automatic weapons should be banned effective immediatley as we valued peoples lives to much. Hand guns were bought back by the government aswell & since then no mass shootings….funny that! "how precious life is' indeed! great article btw xxxmike

  11. mike says:

    Its should also be said that we need to understand & nuture those that have mental illness. No one is inherently evil…just troubled. Its gun control coupled with assisting those who are troubled. Not one or the other.

  12. […] is the last paragraph of a short but potent article, How I Healed from a School Shooting, in Elephant Journal (out of Boulder, Colorado) written by Cassandra Smith who was present in […]

  13. […] imagine the worst—everyone I love being shot hundreds of times. There is no escape route. The Sandy Hook massacre still lingers in my bones. I feel the darkness and vulnerability of this […]

  14. […] reaction to public tragedy is not what it should […]

  15. […] I can’t really speak for others, but I know when I was running down the street towards Columbine High School (empty-handed) and listening to the shots, what I wanted was not any particular gun model but something more—the ability to hold off chaos, to stare the elephant in the face and make it back down. […]

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