JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colorado — In the post-shooting library at Columbine High School, the crush of media and attention is no surprise to the people impacted 20 years ago.
"My name is Sean Graves and I was shot outside the cafeteria on April 20, 1999," Graves said. "With the media looking in (20 years ago), this became a glass bowl and as a community, we were looked to and we were asked how do we move forward from this."
From the injured to the heartbroken to the traumatized, they will all say the reason they can even talk about the tragedy 20 years later is because of each other.
"With my group of friends or even this community, we grouped together and we banded together because we were stronger as one than we were individuals," Graves said. "We were all trying to heal at the same time."
Heather Martin was a senior on that day, and was barricaded in the choir office with other students.
"A lot of people are surprised even given what happened on April 20, 1999 that how many people I'm still in contact with from high school," Martin said.
For the family of Lauren Townsend and other victim's families, the reason they coalesced, they say, can be found in the post-shooting library. They didn't want students to return to the original library where most of the victims were killed, so they raised funds to build a new one on the southwest side of the building.
"It forced us to get to know the other families that had lost a loved one or had had one injured. Through the fundraising for the library, we grew closer and closer," Bruce Beck, Lauren's stepdad, said.
The families met every week for nearly 18 months after the shootings.
"We were fundraising for a library that our children were never going to walk into. That, you have to admit, that's really unique," Dawn Anna, Lauren's mom, said. "We did get the job done. We had a very short time to do it. People did listen to our voices and we became fast and forever friends."
Beck says since the shootings his family has lived as if Lauren never left.
"Lauren has never been a taboo subject where we didn't want to talk about her because it's going to hurt people and stuff," Beck said. "She's always been front-and-center in our family."
Even 20 years later, they still support one another.
"Columbine is incredible," Martin said. "The Columbine community is incredible and the things that we've done since the shooting are all incredible."
Martin and another Columbine graduate, Missy Mendo, are members of an organization called The Rebels Project to support victims of other mass traumas.
"It's the best gift and the worst gift to be able to have and give," Mendo said.
Classmates turned parents now have their kids play together still within the Columbine community.
"We have such a large group of people that when we go out to dinner or something to celebrate someone's birthday, there's like 25 kids running around," Graves said.
Lauren Townsend's father, Rick Townsend, said he and his wife, Sue, have stayed close with some of Lauren's friends.
"One of them, we've taken care of their child," Townsend said. "We were having dinner with them and we said, hey, if you ever need help, you know with child support, let us know. She called up and we said, okay, we'll take her one-day-a-week. We did it for three-and-a-half years. We're grandpa and grandma to her now."
These are relationships and bonds forged in a fire of pain ignited 20 years ago that they say will never be broken.
"We used each other to heal," Graves said. "We still do."
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