(CNN Newsource) – It was the school shooting that shocked the nation, before such attacks became seemingly routine.
Twelve students and a teacher were shot and killed at Colorado’s Columbine High School 20 years ago. The gunmen, students Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, then shot and killed themselves.
Remembering the painful day, a survivor and a SWAT officer.
On April 20, 1999, a high school in Littleton, Colorado was under attack. A pair of students armed with guns and even home-made bombs, walked onto campus and started shooting at their peers.
In the moments that followed, live images of students running for their lives were broadcast nationwide. Then 16-year-old Samantha Haviland was one of them, she was in the cafeteria when the first shots were fired.
“My friends had to pull me out of my chair to the ground,” Haviland said. “I didn’t understand. I had no concept of someone shooting at me, particularly in school.”
Haviland narrowly escaped the danger, but her friend Rachel Scott did not, she was among the 13 people killed.
Grant Whitus was the first SWAT officer to enter the building.
“We broke the window. I went in right then fully expecting to be in a firefight.”
But by the time police went inside 47 minutes after the initial gunfire, the shooters were already dead.
“And by the time we arrived, there was hundreds of cops there and, nobody had went in. Twenty years ago, this is how business was done. Uh, you know, patrol gets there, surrounds it, locks the scene down and waits for SWAT. In hindsight, that was the biggest mistake.”
It’s a mistake he won’t make twice, since then he’s been teaching police to go straight to the sound of gunfire.
For ten years after the shooting, Haviland spent her life on high alert, always looking for the exits and looking for danger.
“Hyper-vigilance is extremely exhausting. It takes up a lot of mental energy.”
Haviland is now the head of counseling for all Dever Public Schools, and sees that same hyper-vigilance in more and more students every year, even kids who have never experienced trauma themselves.
She says it’s thanks to the monthly active shooter drills and graphic school shooting videos share on social media.
“I can’t say it surprises me. I can say it breaks my heart.”
Today, Columbine still attracts hallow threats and unwanted attention. Last week, a Florida teenager who police say was infatuated with the shooting took a one-way flight to Colorado and bought a gun, forcing the closure of schools across the region.
“I feel for the students and the staff that are there because these children were not … they weren’t born even twenty years ago when it happened, but they’re the targets.”
A lot has changed since the Columbine’s school shooting truly shocked the country, police tactics, gun laws, school security, and hundreds of lives but some things maybe never will.
“When I think back to high school, I don’t think about the shooting. I think about the volleyball tournaments, and the speech tournaments, my friends. But, Columbine to an outsider is referring to the shooting itself.”