Columbine shooting survivor educates others on active shooter situations

By Japhanie Gray - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - A survivor of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 helped lead the conversation on active shooter training during a seminar put on by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office and the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

Crystal Woodman Miller joined the discussion as a part of her efforts to raise awareness about the urgency behind active shooter prevention and education.

“I think anytime where we are opening a conversation on things that have happened and how to prevent something from happening, where you know what to do and the proper steps to take, is a great thing,” Miller said. “I think the tension takes place when something like this occurs, some of that slides out of the window, but at least we have tools and resources as businesses, schools, churches or any community could use.”

Kristi Villanueva, CEO of the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, said it was important to host the first active shooter training of 2019 with the Sheriff’s Office and Miller.

“We want to serve and enlighten folks,” Villanueva said. “We want to make sure we start a family conversation of what might happen in any community. There is no more hiding. You don’t play dead. You have an active role to play. It is not necessary to start fighting people. It is about how everyone can stay safe.”

Miller said the discussions they are having nowadays could have been helpful in the past.

“There were various teachers running throughout the school telling us to take cover and hide,” Miller said. “Some telling us to run, and that was because there was no protocol or training at that point. Even when other departments showed up to help, so many jurisdictions were showing up, and there was nobody really taking command or taking (the) lead.”

She spoke on her exact experience the morning of April 20, 1999.

“I remember I forgot to study for a test that was coming up, so I was able to convince some of my friends to come with me to the library to study,” Miller said. “We were in there for only a few minutes before everything started happening.”

Miller said the library was the most intense and violent part in this shooting.

“Ten of the 13 were killed there,” Miller said. “Fifteen of the 24 wounded there. I was in the middle section, hiding. I couldn’t tell that they were students, but they sounded like they were excited, almost as if they had scored a basket at a basketball game. It was just an eerie thing to listen to and so surreal. I mean, you see these things on TV and you hear about this stuff happening, but as a 16-year-old, I didn’t have a roadmap as to how this would all play out.”

She said she almost lost her life, along with her friends, who were hiding at their table.

“We were in the middle section, which was the last section, and we could hear them weave through all of the tables,” Miller said. “For some reason, they check the first section and then they were making their way to us, and when they got to our table, they were pushing chairs and one chair actually hit me, so they were like right above me talking. They first turned their attention to the boy who was right next to us and shot and killed him. They were laughing at him and mocking him, and then they turned their attention to our table, and I thought, this is it. I started thinking about how I was about to die and how it was going to feel.”

At that point, Miller said the two active shooters realized they needed more ammunition and left to reload.

“For some reason at that right time, they gave us a moment of escape,” Miller said. “And even when we did, we were just yards away from them, as they were, at that point, exchanging fire with officers.”

She said she did not know the shooters.

“I had seen them and passed them in the hall, and looking at them, you would never know they were capable of something like this,” Miller said.

Miller said her life is different now as she continues to stay strong after the incident happened.

“I have been speaking for schools, communities and church events to lend my voice in an effort to speak about prevention and to help those who have been affected by something like this,” Miller said.

She said it is important that we remember not only those who have lost their lives, but the survivors from active shootings.

“We must remember those who lived through it,” Miller said. “There are so many question that they do not have. It was really hard for me for days, months and even years after that. I wished so badly that I had been the one killed in place of someone else. I don’t want to see someone go through that.”

She said it's her faith and love and support from family, friends and her children that keep her going strong and with a positive mindset.

“It is easy to live in fear and be afraid to step out of house, because we see these shootings that are not just happening at schools anymore,” Miller said. “We see them everywhere, and everything seems like a battleground. I think it is important that my children see me being brave. We need to exhibit bravery and courage. We need to stare fear in the face and say, ‘Not today.’ It is a choice that we make, but we have to continue to live our lives.”

While living her life, Miller said it is important to keep the conversation going.

“I know this is now looked at as a political issue, but it is more than that,” Miller said. “If we just start talking as humans to one another and just see eye to eye and recognize that we all want the same thing. We all want safety for our children. We all want safer community and schools and all these things, and so I think that is important to remember.”

She added that it is best to step in front of those who may be on the brink of making a bad decision.

“We have to reach those individuals, as well. I know there is a component of mental illness and all of these other issues. It is all of it. We have to talk about all of it," Miller said. "Those people out there who may be going through something and think to themselves, ‘I am going to send a bigger message’ or ‘I am going to have a bigger body count.’ It is sad to say, but this has become a part of our culture, and people are losing interest in the message you are trying to send. The media is starting to do a great job and not showcasing these shooters or bringing fame to these shooters, because now it is about stopping the issue.”

Miller said she forgives the shooters of Columbine High School and hopes her story and message can educate everyone to be aware of any potential danger in any setting.

“Looking back, there were warning signs and odd occurrences, but we didn’t think too much of them, and why would we? Nothing bad could ever happen in our community, we thought,” Miller said. “So if history has taught us anything, it is that we have to take these things seriously and start planning better for the future.”

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