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 lovelies!