MONTVILLE, NJ – It was the deadliest high school shooting until Parkland. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last. Evan Todd, who is a survivor of the Columbine, Col. school shooting spoke at Lazar Middle School in May as part of the Living Lessons seminars to teach the students about overcoming tragedies. If ever there was a situation the students could identify with, it was this one.
“It was the most horrific and difficult ten minutes of my life – and will probably ever be,” Todd told the students. “I wondered if I would ever see my friends again – and I had to bury my friends.”
Todd described the librarian telling the students to hide from the gunmen in the library under tables and desks, but he was stuck hiding behind a pillar when the bullets were fired and ended up being injured by shrapnel in the lower back and eye.
“Ten of my classmates were killed in the library,” he recalled. “More than 20 were wounded.”
He said one of the gunmen came back later and found him underneath a librarian’s desk and pulled the chair back out, held a gun to his head and asked him why he shouldn’t kill him. He talked the gunman out of killing him, and Todd said the gunman’s face changed at that point and he let the people in the room go free.
Bullying is a Problem
Todd talked about the Rachel’s Challenge organization that was begun by the parents of the first student killed at the school. Montville Township High School had the club for a short time. It is designed to reduce bullying, which was often cited as a cause for the shooters’ rage. He said the two students were bullied but they were bullies too. He said no one followed up on their threats and Todd encouraged the Lazar students to go to a parent or teacher if they saw a problem.
“You’re not being a tattletale,” he said.
He encouraged acts of kindness but also encouraged the kids that if they saw warning signs to alert someone.
Todd wanted to encourage the students with a quote from Lao Tzu:
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
He said that “everything starts with what we’re thinking and doing.”
Beginning to Heal
Todd said he used the outdoors to try to deal with what had happened in his life, and he played football as a way to deal with stress. He talked about how his high school’s win at the state football championships was a healing moment, especially since the team had dedicated the season to one of the players who was killed on that terrible day.
“It was a turning point for many of us: life does go on – there can be good things,” he said. “It lifted us up. There will be so many lessons that will change you – focus on the positive.”
Todd said there have been dark times, and that recovering is still happening and has not been easy.
“There are times when depression and anxiety set in,” he said. “But when it happens, never bottle them in. Try to recognize it and seek out help from a teacher or organization, because others are going through the same thing – you’re not alone. Sometimes I have felt alone but I realized there were so many people reaching out to help. When you focus on the difficult parts, you start to forget the wonderful parts.”
Todd called the school environment safer now because law enforcement has learned a lot (read about the A.L.I.C.E. safety protocols that Montville Township public schools use now, learned from the shootings here).
When asked if he forgives the shooters, Todd said that he doesn’t forgive everything and the shooters had a lot of issues in their lives.
“Perhaps if there had been an intervention, we could have helped them,” he said. “I forgive them for all the things they did to me [personally]. It was a process – it released a lot of built up anger. When I forgave them, it helped me probably more than it helped them. Hanging on to that anger is not healthy for anyone. As I let go, I felt more free. One of the greatest things ever, is forgiveness.”
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