Often times, national tragedies have a way of making us pause and reflect. They serve as brutal reminders that life can be short, unpredictable and, most evidently, painful. The tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado, is only the latest in a string of now-infamous events that will forever change the lives of those involved. For Evan Todd, a survivor of the Columbine massacre, the nation's newest horror pains his heart, as he sees others going through the same suffering he faced years ago. And he's sharing his thoughts with TheBlaze.
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Due to the location of the Aurora movie theater rampage -- just miles away from Littleton, the city where the Columbine shootings took place on April 20, 1999 -- this latest shooting is being compared to the former massacre. Although it's been more than 13 years since the killings that left 15 dead (12 students, one teacher and the two perpetrators), many media outlets and community members are looking to the students who survived Columbine to better understand how to cope with the Aurora tragedy.
Considering the insight that these teenagers were forced to gain in the years following the event, it's understandable why their perspective would be sought out. Todd, a former Columbine student, was shot, but survived the horrific and life-altering attack at the school.
In his interview with TheBlaze, he began by describing the scene that morning. Todd heard gunshots outside of the library prior to the murderers (Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris) inevitably entered the room, weapons in hand. It took only moments for their carnage to continue inside of it.
"It was total chaos for a few minutes until we started hearing the gun shots getting close in the hallway," he said. "And I was behind the pillar when one of the shooters saw me [in the library] and fired a shotgun in my direction.
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While he was able to escape the bullets, Todd was immediately hit with shrapnel on the left side of his face and on his back. But the horror didn't end there, as they began to kill their classmates execution style, again confronting Todd directly.
"After a few minutes of them being in the library, I was hiding in a librarian's desk and at gun point they asked me why I should live," Todd explains, with somber remembrance coloring his voice. "And I told them that I didn't have a problem with them and that I had been good to them and everyone at the school -- and they knew it."
At the time, Todd recalls sitting on the ground with his knees pulled up to his chest. At any moment, he feared that the shooters would take his life.
"I was thinking this is it -- this is how my life is going to end. I was praying and I was asking God to live. It was so surreal -- an out-of-body experience," he added.
Remarkably, Todd's appeal was effective. The murderers, for whatever reason, decided to spare his life.
Years later, he still reflects on the horrific event that has forever changed his life. Among other lessons, he's learned the power of forgiveness.
Todd admits that forgiving the killers was difficult and that he found himself looking to the Bible for lessons and advice regarding how to handle it. In the end, he was able to forgive them for the actions they took against him. Still, the process has been challenging.
"That's a hard thing to do -- to overcome a lot of hatred and anger toward them," he admitted.
While there are obviously so many painful memories and difficulties that resulted in the years following the massacre, Todd did say that the event taught him to better cherish relationships in his life. Additionally, it impacted his views on the importance and the value of human life.
"One thing I have realized is that I look at every single person's life as something that's precious," Todd said. "You understand people are out there and living a life. They have friends and family and loved ones."
He went on to say that he's not sure he would have the ability to comprehend just how beautiful life is had he not witnessed such "profound death and destruction." He encouraged parents to emphasize to their children the value of human life -- and that it is a precious gift from God.
"Life isn't something that can be thrown around and destroyed," he said.
"It makes me sick"
As for the most recent tragedy in Aurora, Todd has a myriad of emotions. Upon first seeing it on television, he said he felt sick to his stomach. This instant reaction unfolds for a variety of reasons. First, it brings back his memories of people being shot years ago. But, secondly, the empathy he feels for the victims of Aurora and other tragedies drives his instant lamentations.
"I know what those people are going through at that moment," he explains. "And it makes me sick to think that another person is going through what I went through. It's so disheartening."
Having years to reflect upon what happened to him, Todd believes that it's possible to prevent shootings like what unfolded at Columbine and in the Aurora movie theater. While he believes each event is unique and different, there are some common themes and individual actions that could make an impact for good.
"If we focused on respecting life as sacred, we will see some of this dissipate," he said, adding, "I do think a lot of these events could be avoided if people showed more charity and love towards other people, because they would realize that somebody out there would do random kindness [and] respect their lives enough to care. It's basically leadership through example."
Loving, respecting and showing a caring heart for those around us is the message that Todd believes could help to heal and prevent further pain. In his own life, it is healing that has come after years of peaceful and thoughtful reflection and consideration.
Editor's Note: The author of this article regularly works on speaking tours and educational projects with Evan Todd.