• Road Trip to Columbine

    Road Trip to Columbine


    Warning: I totally cried while writing this...please read to the end.

    A few days ago, my mom and I started out on our journey towards the Denver, CO area. We headed down from Minnesota, through Iowa, and stopped near Omaha, NE. The shooting site in Omaha was a department store in a mall. The largest massacre in Nebraska's history in over 50 years. We walked into the department store and asked a manager for permission. She couldn't technically stop us since it is an exterior shot, so we did it. There was a plaque inside the store to remember the victims. This was a very fast shoot and we didn't have any problems.

    After a night here, we headed through a bunch of Nebraskan corn towards the very flat lands of Kansas. Fun times, eh? :P Did the site pretty fast there too. The business closed by the time we got there, so we had to do it from the sidewalk so it was legal. This shooting just happened this year, so I was a bit hesitant to ask, anyways. Like most of the sites, there wasn't any indication on the surface that something had happened there. On the doors of this business, there were "no weapons" signs, however. I'm not sure if these were here before or if they are the result of the shooting. Either way, I feel it creates some sort of symbol for what happened at the site, but only those who know what happened. Otherwise, it doesn't mean as much, I'd say.

    After a night in Kansas, we go outta there and drove over 7 hours to Colorado Springs, CO. The Kansas part of the drive was boringly flat, but it got interesting basically the moment we crossed into Colorado. It kept getting better the more we drove, though we had to survive hail, rain, and lighting! The little towns were interesting, and that is basically all we saw until we hit Pueblo, CO right before Colorado Springs. I can't believe we got over 4000 feet above sea level. The drive is so subtly uphill, that we didn't even notice. I'm now in love with Colorado. The mountains are so beautiful and basically everywhere you look. So wonderful!

    After one night in Colorado Springs, we left the hotel and headed to the Garden of the Gods and took a hike. Such beautiful rocks! A wonderful hike with amazing views and some good, fresh air. Wish I could camp there, but we had to move on. Got in contact with the principal of Columbine and, after some persistence, he finally agreed to let me photograph the school. It wasn't planned for that same day that we were heading towards Denver, but their school days start tomorrow, so it made sense to get it done before all the students come.

    We arrived at Columbine High School after an hour drive and we went in to meet the principal. He was super nice and helpful. Took us around the school to show us different things pertaining to the shooting. We stopped in the memorial library first, which was built after the shooting and after taking the old library out. They did this because most of the deaths that occurred were in the library. In the memorial library, there is a large plaque at the entrance that lists the names of those that were killed. This was the first moment of chills for me. 13 people were killed on that day. 13 lives were taken that are just a few years younger than me...

    We then walked over to where the old library used to be. They seemed to have taken it completely out and now it is just an open ceiling space above the cafeteria (it was on the second floor originally). We then walked down the stairs into the cafeteria. This is where the major moment of chills and emotion hit me. It's the exact same cafeteria where the two shooters (who I refuse to name) tried to set off their bombs (which thankfully didn't go off) and where the shootings began because the bombs didn't work. In surveillance videos from the shooting (which can be found online, but watch at your own risk), you can see the two shooters coming into the cafeteria and walking around. It is a chilling video itself, but to walk in the same space and in the steps of them and the students that ran away, was even more chilling. I stood in the middle of the cafeteria and imagined what it would have been like seeing them coming down the stairs or seeing my friends running out of the cafeteria. All I can do is imagine, but I'll never be able to know what it was like for those who were there.

    Above the cafeteria, where the library used to be, someone painted a giant mural on different panels that now hang from the ceiling. When put together, the panels create a mural of what it would look like if one looked up at the sky in the middle of a forest and saw the trees stretching up into the heavens. It is a fitting mural and very beautiful. Glad it replaced the library.

    After this, we headed outside from the cafeteria and I did my photos at the back of the school. Normally my photos are the front of buildings, but the back seemed fitting as I was able to capture the area where the events actually happened. It also wasn't disruptive to the students that were at the school starting their sports. We didn't bring the pillows with us into the school, so I photographed these later. I didn't want to waste the principal's time going back and getting them and then setting them up. It's more important to me to get the sites and then mess with the pillows later to create the final images. If I happen to be able to do the balls on-site, then I will.

    I got the photos within 10 minutes and then the principal walked us back out the front of the school. As we walked, he mentioned to us that normally on April 20th, they don't have school. This year, they plan to do something different that actually gives back to the community. They will still have school, but no class, it sounds like. A lot of the students weren't even born at the time of the shooting, so they don't have the same connection to it. He mentioned that it is better that they involve people instead of just giving them another day off of school. He wants them to realize the depth of the incident and not take the day off of school for granted. I applaud them for changing it and I hope it goes well.

    We said our goodbyes and thank yous then he directed us to the Columbine Memorial in the park right next door. We drove over and then walked up to this area in a beautiful park that housed the hidden-away memorial. He told us that they made it not super close to the school on purpose because of people that come around and want a look at where it happened, etc. That is why he was hesitant to give me permission, as he wasn't sure I wasn't just a crazy wanting to see stuff. He agreed because I have an actual purpose. Very thankful for him allowing me access. It was an experience I will never forget!

    The memorial, part of which is pictured, was breathtaking. The atmosphere is hard to describe. All that can be heard is birds chirping and the distant sound of the freeway. There were a couple people around that were walking on the top hill edge above the memorial, but they weren't any distrubance. In the center of the memorial on the ground are tiles made into the shape of a ribbon (like you would see for breast cancer awareness). On it are the words "Never Forgotten". Where the ribbon crosses itself there lay 13 red roses. Someone must have just put them there recently. It was another chilling moment.

    Surrounding this, is a circle of plaques that have little memorial writings from the families and friends of the 13 victims that were killed. They talked of their life and their dreams. I tried to read all of them, but I started to tear up. There was so much love there and it was heartbreaking to read of young lives, like myself, get ripped away in an instant. It hit home. I'm even tearing up writing this!

    Then, on the outside of the inner circle, there is a wall with different quotes from people that were injured, students that were there, family members, people that helped create the memorial, and even President Bill Clinton. A lot of the quotes were very moving and really fit with the overall theme of my project. For example:

    - "The hardest part to understand was kids killing kids." - Student
    - "The definition of normal changed on that day." - Parent
    - "It brought the nation to its knees, but now that we've gotten back up how have things changed; what have we learned?" - (Not Mentioned)- "I hope people come to this place to think about how they themselves can be better people rather than come here to reflect on death." - Parent

    After walking from one end of the wall to the other, I turned to my mom and saw her teary eyes. I was too. I can only imagine what its like for a parent to hear of all of these mass-shootings, especially the school ones. I'm sure she was thinking of me when reading these, just as my dad probably was when we went to Sandy Hook.

    Walking away from this memorial really made me feel thankful for everyone in my life. So, if you are reading this and I know you, know that I am thankful for you. Even if we aren't really friends, you have made an impact on my life in some way and I hope I have to your life as well. If we are friends or family, you have made me who I am. Thank you <3 I love you all and am giving everyone a virtual hug! Next time I see you, give me a hug. I'll hug you right back :) If I've never met you or even heard your name, I hope this blog post has made your realize what's important in your life and what you should be thankful for. Go our there and show your thanks. Let's all stop the hating and create some loving! <3 I sound like a hippie... :P

    Now I'll stop crying and say goodbye for now :) Go hug your loved ones and tell them that you love them. We don't say it enough. Thank them for all they have done for you. Life is fleeting and we need to spread the love while we still can <3

    All for now my lovelys!


  • Goodbye New England!

    Hi All!

    We didn't end up getting permission for the Washington Navy Yard, so we got a little more time to go around Washington DC and Alexandria, VA where we stayed. Got most of the sites, though, so I'd say that was a successful trip! I had a lot of great experiences, met a lot of wonderful people, ate great food, and visited lots of new states for me! I'm glad this project lets me do this. You are winning my heart, East Coast <3

    Next up, going West with my mom to the Denver, CO area to get sites like Columbine and Aurora. We are also getting sites along the way in some other states. More blog posts when that trip begins next week! :) Thanks for reading!


  • End of New England Trip

    End of New England Trip

    Hi Friends!

    Lots of colors in this photo here, so let me break it down for you simply. Black isn't getting done this trip, red needs to be done, blue has been done. So, we got a lot done this trip! One more site to go tomorrow in DC if they will let us photograph it. Cross your fingers!

    We left Boston and headed up to Wakefield first. There wasn't anyone to get permission from that owned the building (it was multiple businesses), so we did it anyways with a non-descript shot of the building. A guy walking by looked at us funny because of the pillows, but oh well! :P Got it done.

    Then we drove a while (took a detour to Rhode Island because why not?) and got to Manchester, CT. Beautiful experience here. A guy named Steve, who I believe is the boss, came out and met us. We told him what I am doing and he decided to walk us to the memorial for the victims that was outside of their company building in the woods right next to it. As we walked, he spoke to us about the memorial and the event. Apparently he was one of the survivors of the shooting. One of the other bosses protected him from being killed, but he was killed instead. This was another case of an angry employee that was fired or asked to resign and then went on a shooting spree.

    This day also happened to be the day before the anniversary of the shooting. I didn't even realize that when we came, but I feel like it made it all the more meaningful of a visit. There were people setting up a tent for a remembrance event the next day.

    We walked into the woods where the memorial is. It was so quiet in there. Very sombering. A beautiful memorial that seemed very personalized to each of the victims. Steve said he comes out there sometimes when he just wants to think about them and the event. It is quiet, peaceful, and cooler, so I could see why. He said the memorial definitely helped people to heal.

    I did the photos with the pillows in front of the building. He was totally open to it. This was a great experience to meet Steve, hear his story, and to see the memorial. I am very glad that this project allows me to meet people like this. I'm hoping they had a good anniversary the next day.

    After this, we went to Newington. They didn't give us permission, so we kept going to our hotel in Danbury, CT. We stopped in nearby Newtown to find where the school was of the Sandy Hook shooting. The new school was just opened the week before, but we still got chills going to the location. They built the school on the same land. I asked for us to leave right away because it was too chilling for me...

    The next morning, we drove to the Sandy Hook Promise office and met with Betsy, who I had been emailing back and forth about coming and visiting. She let us in the office and showed us around the space. We signed a sign that had signatures from all over the world of people that had come to visit and give their thoughts. She also showed us a map of where their organization has spread to in the US. Lots of places! Still more to go, though.

    We then all got in our rental car and she started to give us a tour of the town as we drove to the Board of Education. It's a very cute town. Hard to believe such an event could have happened there...

    At the Board of Ed., we went to ask for permission to photograph the school. I had to be very sensitive in asking permission as the town is very scarred by the event and it is such a sensitive subject because the victims were so young. Its definitely a different situation than other sites that I have had to ask permission about. The superintendent wasn't there, so we had to talk with his secretary. She was very hesitant and I could tell right away that I had to really be careful with how I asked and acted. She said she would ask her boss via call/text and come back out to tell us what he said.

    Thankfully, she came back and said that we could photograph the front of the school but couldn't go inside or anywhere else around the building. I was very very thankful to her. She looked like she might start to cry and Betsy hugged her and said "it's all right". Betsy stopped us after and said she might cry too. She told us that she had never met that lady before, but that that is what the tragedy did to their city. People who never knew each other end up hugging and comforting each other because it was a scar on their community and not just to those involved. I almost started to cry at this point to because I could really see the pain. I can only imagine what it was like right when it happened.

    After this we headed to the new Sandy Hook school. Betsy hadn't seen it yet. I felt really awkward taking the photos, since there were some people around, but I did it. We had permission, so there wasn't anything to worry about. I didn't want to put the pillows out since it was such a sensitive scene and subject. They represent the humans effected...these happen to be children. It would have been too much of a risk and I didn't want to pain anyone else.

    Got the photos done in about 5 minutes, as always. Then we got out of there and headed to the next street. Turned around and saw the copper stars that were installed on the firehouse right by the school. There are 26 stars. It was a beautiful site to see and a surprise to turn around to. A wonderful remembrance to the victims. It is a perfect spot for them to do that because it is right by the school, and also one of the victims wanted to be a firefighter. At his funeral, Betsy told us, he even got a firefighter funeral with them all lined up and doing what they do for one lost. Firefighters from all around came to the funeral. We saw photos of it later, and it was beautiful.

    After this, we headed around the rest of town and saw more of it. Its a historic town, especially by the standards of the midwest that I am used to. Everything on the east coast is old, to me. At one point, we stopped and Betsy told us that the street we were on was covered in flowers, teddy bears, notes, etc. that people sent or brought to the town after the event. It blocked the street, there was so much. After the winter, they had to end up burning all of the things, and they will use the ashes in whatever the memorial is that they do in the town for the victims. Its a very nice addition.

    Said goodbye and got a picture with Betsy. It was a very somber day and I'm very thankful to Betsy, the superintendent, Board of Ed, and everyone else. Again, very grateful to be able to have these experiences because of this project. I hope moments like this day continue.

    We then took a long drive towards Lancaster, PA to get the site in Nickel Mines, PA. This was a shooting of an Amish school, which has now been torn down. We had trouble finding the exact location, as it was just a field now. Had to creepily go back and forth on this one road until I could match the news photos to the current area. Sorry, locals! :P This was an interesting area, as I had never really seen Amish people before. They were everywhere. Very interesting people and I'm kind of jealous for their lack of technology and focus on family. We seem to have lost that in our current age. I'm not sure how I would do without any kind of technology, though!

    After one night in Lancaster, we took a very bumpy train (sorry, European trains are better) to NYC Penn Station. We only had one full day here the next day, so we saw things that first night really fast, like Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, and Bryant Park. I had been here before, so I wasn't go crazy about getting everywhere and only having one day here. The city is so lively. No where else in the world has this kind of life, I'd say. We had a delicious Italian dinner and then went back to our bad hotel that I will not name...

    On the full day the next day, we got a train to Long Island leaving from Penn Station. It took about an hour to get out to Merillon Avenue, where the shooting happened. This is an important site to the project, as it was the first mass-shooting to happen after my birth. December 7th, 1993. I was only 4 days old. 6 people died and 19 were injured. This was the beginning of my life in a world full of senseless killings.

    I didn't have the same feeling of chills or anything that I did at Sandy Hook or Manchester, CT. It did happen so long ago, and I wouldn't have even known what death was at that point in my life. The photos were super easy. It was at the train stop, so we just got off, took the photos, then switched sides and went back to NYC. This is an important site, but I doubt many people even know about it. Maybe it is just important to me.

    We got back and headed to Greenwich Village. Very nice area and I hadn't been there before. We also went to find the location of the CBGB club, but it wasn't there anymore. All that was left was a mural nearby of Joey Ramone. Kinda wish it was still there. I think it should have been made into a museum, not a modern shop...

    Now we are near Washington DC in Alexandria, VA. We took a train, which was better than the last train, but still not up to the level of the European trains. Step it up, America! :P Tomorrow we go to the site, but not sure if we will be able to get the photo. I don't really want to mess with the Navy :P wish us luck! More later.


  • New England Trip Begins

    New England Trip Begins

    Tomorrow I start off on my sites for the month of August. My dad and I met in Boston, MA and had a couple days to see the city, but now it is time to get to work. We drive all day tomorrow and are getting three sites along the way. We will start at Wakefield, MA a little north of Boston. We will then head to Connecticut (cut into Rhode Island quick, just for the fun of it!) and get Manchester and Newington. Then, on Wednesday, we are heading to Newtown (Sandy Hook) to give it its own full day, as I know it is a very important site. I've also been in contact with some organizations related to the tradgety, so I am going to try to meet some people that are involved with that. Hopefully they can meet up!

    It will be nice to see the New England landscapes and such, as I never have. Based on these couple days in Boston and Salem, it should all be very beautiful. Wish us luck with driving and with gaining access to the sites! Hopefully everything goes smoothly!

    Also, I just found out about a week ago that I will be speaking about this project at the Midwest SPE conference in St. Louis! And, I just found out today that two of the images from the project were selected to be in the SPE Juried show at the same conference! Very thankful to the SPE people and to everyone who has and is helping me with my endeavors! This project is already making the rounds in its infancy and I really hope that, if it becomes big enough, it can really make a difference to America and our laws towards gun violence. Cross your fingers!


  • 'On This Day' Introduction

    'On This Day' Introduction


    I'm still out of the country, but within my time away, there have been three mass-shootings. So, I feel it is time to introduce my senior project for my BFA. I am going to the sites of mass-shootings, which I narrowed down with strict criteria, and photographing them as they stand today. Even with my strict criteria, there are over 70 sites that I need to go to. This is very saddening to me and I believe my project can help change the way people view these events.

    Honestly, can you name the last mass-shooting? I bet most would say the shooting in Orlando, Florida that killed 49 and injured over 50. This is definitely a mass-shooting, but what about the police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge in just the past couple weeks? The media didn't call these mass-shootings, yet they fit my criteria perfectly.

    With this project, I hope to make people realize that we need a set definition of a mass-shooting. Yes, there isn't actually an agreed-upon definition. I also hope people remember the victims that are so often forgotten, that we realize how many there actually have been, and that we actually make measures to try to prevent these shootings from happening again.

    This is the beginning of my blog posts about my travels, struggles, and updates pertaining to this project. Feel free to share!

    More info on the project can be found at 'On This Day' in my project's folder.
    Stay safe out there!