Skip to main content

Columbine survivor: No child should worry about gunmen

By Katie Lyles, Special to CNN
updated 10:12 AM EDT, Fri April 19, 2013
Children, a sister and brother, walk along the Columbine Memorial at the Columbine Memorial Park in Littleton, Colorado.
Children, a sister and brother, walk along the Columbine Memorial at the Columbine Memorial Park in Littleton, Colorado.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former Columbine student Katie Lyles bears hidden scars from the day of the massacre
  • Lyles, who is a teacher, says Columbine students lost their innocence that day
  • It was a shock when her student asked if lockdown drills were for when a gunman came
  • Lyles: Our kids deserve more mental health resources, enhanced security without guns

Editor's note: Katie Lyles, who teaches third graders in Colorado, was a student at Columbine during the massacre 14 years ago.

(CNN) -- At 16, my innocence was shattered when two gunmen murdered 13 people at my school and wounded countless others.

Columbine High School promised to be a safe and secure place of learning. And that promise was broken on April 20, 1999.

On that morning, I headed to school worried about my 10th grade math test and my upcoming track meet. Useless worries: The test was never given and we never held the meet.

Katie Lyles
Katie Lyles

Scars remain from that day that no one can see. Scars that made my worries about math tests or track performance pale in comparison to whether my science partner would live or whether my classmate's speech would be impaired by the shrapnel lodged in his skull. Today, those mental scars throb in large crowds and force me to scan the room for exits. They make my heart beat faster when I hear the blades of a helicopter overhead.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Now, as a teacher in my eighth year in the classroom, I consider every day that I go to work a privilege. I cherish my students' joy and enthusiasm, and most importantly, their innocence.

I believe that it is our job, as a society, to protect these virtues in our young people. I want them to be worried about math tests and track meets and about science fairs and student council elections -- the kind of normal school stuff that builds character. But our epidemic of gun violence is creating a culture of fear in our schools, where students are anxious about safety and intruders. These are worries no student should have.

This becomes even more apparent when we conduct our monthly emergency drill at our school. It's a way to be prepared for the worst, so we practice lockdowns, fire drills and evacuations.

The other day, I was explaining to my third graders that we were going to practice a lockdown just in case a bear happened to be on the playground -- a real scenario for our Colorado school. I have used this example my entire teaching career because it's an easy and nonthreatening reason to practice a lockdown.

One girl raised her hand and asked: "Is this what we would do if a bad guy came with a gun to hurt us?" I felt kicked in the stomach when I heard this question. A bear is no longer the worst thing for students to anticipate: They fear what is happening across our nation.

It is a shame that my students must learn these drills at such a young age -- a shame they must learn them at all. I thought to myself, "This is a result of the Columbine shootings, along with so many other acts of violence. This is my reality, and now it is theirs too."

It is a sad reality, but we are not helpless. I teach at a wonderful school, which has done everything within its resources to keep our students safe. But it is not enough. If there were a simple solution, then this epidemic of violence would have ended. The solution is complex, multifaceted -- and achievable. I believe a comprehensive approach can help ensure a safe learning environment.

• Our children deserve more mental health resources to identify, treat and follow up with people who need help.

• Our children deserve enhanced school security: This includes identifying who is in the school and sensible steps to keep the building secure -- without bringing guns into the place of learning or turning it into a fortress.

• Our children deserve common sense gun legislation: I believe this should include a ban on high-capacity magazine clips. And at the very least, it should include comprehensive and enforceable background checks to help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Unfortunately, our Congress refused to take this common sense step and turned this legislation down.

The shooters at my school obtained their guns illegally, through private sales and straw purchases. Today they could easily go online and buy those same weapons without a background check. What is to stop the next person who chooses from doing just that?

We can do better.

I think I can speak for all of us that the murders at Columbine High School, the Aurora movie theater, Sandy Hook Elementary, and so many others shocked us to our core and created lasting feelings of sadness. But we can't let these events create feelings of vulnerability. We have the power to work together to create a safer world for our students.

Learn from my experience -- do not wait until you experience violence first hand to realize that we need to take action. We need to take action now.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Katie Lyles.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 8:12 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT