A combined SWAT team waits outside the middle school entrance at STEM School Highlands Ranch after a shooting that killed one and wounded eight students. (John Leyba, Special to The Colorado Sun)

This story first appeared in a Colorado Community Media newspaper. Support CCM’s neighborhood news. The Colorado Sun is an owner of CCM.

Speaking to a panel of survivors and loved ones of mass shootings, former STEM School Highlands Ranch teacher Erin Christian told them she was grateful for their strength and candor. 

“In the early days, I didn’t see how I was going to get through this,” said Christian, who survived a mass shooting at STEM School in May 2019. “To hear from you guys that there’s this other side is so powerful for me.” 

Hosted by the STEM Center for Strength, the panel on April 1 focused on recovering from trauma with speakers sharing their individual journeys of healing from mass violence. It featured Columbine survivors Frank DeAngelis, the school’s former principal; former Columbine teacher Paula Reed; Columbine graduate Michelle Wheeler; two family members of victims in the Aurora Theatre shooting, Tom Sullivan and Heather Dearman; Amber Brown, a survivor of the Las Vegas Route 91 shooting; and Carley Posey, a mother of survivors of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Emphasizing that recovery looks unique for every person and doesn’t follow any set timeline or logic, panelists answered a series of questions at the Lone Tree facility from moderator Kyle Dyer about what they had learned about processing trauma and what other people should know. 

“One of the hardest parts is understanding that who you were before is gone and you’ll never be that self again,” Reed, the former Columbine teacher, said. “But none of us are who we were yesterday, and you’re not supposed to be. You’re not supposed to go back, so no matter where you are on your journey, you are you.”

Though each individual healing process was different, the panelists highlighted a variety of resources that helped them, including therapy, medication and yoga and exercise. 

D’Angelis said he still has his counselor on speed dial. 

“It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength,” he said. 

Read more at coloradcommunitymedia.com.