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April is a difficult month for Paula Reed – although has existed for 19 years.
April 20 is the anniversary of the Columbine massacre. On that day in 1999, two high school students in Littleton, Colorado, killed 12 students and one teacher before killing themselves.
Reed was a teacher at Columbine High School that day and is still today. This week she spoke with NPR from the same classroom she had taught before everything happened.
On April 20, 1999, she evacuated the Fire Alarm with her students, a "Pavlovian" answer, telling her what they considered a drill or a student playing a joke.
Reed recalls how he went out into the sunshine of a beautiful day when children ran screaming: "They have weapons, they have weapons!"
She did not believe the allegations at first, because it was Littleton, and "that It's just not something that happens. "But then came the explosions – the shooters also set up explosive devices – and urgent phone calls from school administrators to bring students over the chain link fence that surrounded the school back then.
When they showered on students, Reed remembers the base of the fence was dotted with rucksacks, teenage girls' high heels, and other things that students took off to make climbing easier.
After hiding in the school parking lot, he managed another teacher and a group of students. She helped the children to call their parents and coordinated the roles while they waited for information. It seemed like they only had to wait 20 minutes in the library, she says. She later found out that it had been two hours and that her school had been on the news all the time.
Mark Leffingwell / AFP / Getty Images
She finally left the library and took a bus to a local elementary school where others were waiting. When she got off the bus, she learned that 17-year-old Rachel Scott was dead and that Daniel Mauser, 15, was still missing. She trained both students in the forensic debate team. Mauser was later confirmed as one of the victims.
Reed asked Ron Mitchell, who later became director of Columbine, about her colleague Dave Sanders. She had heard that he had been shot. Mitchell told her that Sanders was still at school – and that there was no reason to get him out at that moment.
She knew what that meant.
When Reed finally came home that night, she watched the news until 2 o'clock in the morning. She got to know the names of the shooters: 17-year-old Dylan Klebold and 18-year-old Eric Harris. She had taught Klebold his second year.
She says she has not seen the news since then.
"The last time I saw TV news was the night of the shooting," she says.
As a result, she did not see much television coverage of the school's shooting in February this year, when 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people with a military artillery piece at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida. Nevertheless, the tragedy has triggered it.
"I'm totally crazy," she says. "It was too close to ours."
Reed still teaches at Columbine High School. She has been teaching there for 32 years now. She did not go to school the day after parkland shooting.
"I always tell people that April is a tough month for me," she says. This year "it was April since February 14th."
The years after Columbine were tough, and she says that any subsequent mass shooting has influenced Reed differently. She says not every shooting triggers her. But shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was tough. Shooting in Las Vegas was hard too.
Reed and many of her fellow teachers committed to stay in school three years after filming because they considered it important to see the students who were first-year students at the time of filming
"It's getting better because it has to be"
Reed fought especially in the third year after the tragedy. She says she got hives every time she walked in, lost a few of her hair, and had headaches that lasted for days. After completing her undergraduate studies she took a two-year leave of absence. During that time, she said that she was concentrating on her marriage and raising her two small children. She also wrote romance novels that had happy endings.
She says she does not know how or if she could ever return to a classroom. But when her friend needed help during maternity leave, she was able to work out a job-sharing plan for two years. She went back to class and it got better.
"Teaching is a vocation for me," she says.
Also help time and distance.
"It's getting better because it has to," she says
This is the message that Reed and other Columbine teachers want to bring to the survivors of mass shootings. Six weeks after filming in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary, where 20 elementary school children and six adults were murdered, Reed and a colleague went to Newtown, Connecticut, to meet with the surviving teachers.
Reed remembers a teacher especially closed. After a while, the woman screamed, "I just want my old self back!"
Reed says she has to tell the woman, "I'm so sorry, but this person is gone forever." But she could also give hope.
"I swear, there's a new you in you, and you can not even see it," Reed says to the woman. "But she is here, and you will like her, and it will be O.K."
Reed says Columbine teachers often go to school after hearing about shootings. She says they know how important it is for someone to be there to tell the survivors that they will make it through the hard days – like the first day or if they do not believe they can live through the pain , 19659009] It says that school administrators from other schools do not often respond to their offer. But the offer is always there.
"We just want to come and make hope," she says. "You are not alone. You can talk to other teachers who have gone through this."
Reed has been in contact with some of the students who have witnessed the shootings. And she says, "They are a mixed bag."
Reed helped some of her current students organize marches and strikes. She admires the student activism that is happening now, but she adds that Columbine's students went to Washington right after filming in 1999.
This summer, Denver Post reported that at a press conference in Washington, DC, several Colorado students "demanded legislation that imposed criminal background checks on all purchases at shooting exhibitions a month, increasing the statutory Age for gun ownership at 21 and prohibits the sale of high-capacity magazines. "
The Post also reported that several news agencies were at the conference. But the students' voices did not echo across the country at the time.
"There was no Facebook, there was no social media, there was no way to attract the world's attention," says Reed.
Nowadays, Reed tries to live on something she heard shortly after the Columbine shootout when a Holocaust survivor spoke to her school.
"Pain should never be wasted," said the survivor.