Columbine students seize on legacy of tragedy to work toward taming gun violence

Kaylee Tyner thumbed through her freshman yearbook on the eve of the first day of her senior year at Columbine High School last August, willing a sense of nostalgia to overpower a churning anxiety.

She looked forward to soaking up her last drops of high school, yet couldn’t shake an uneasy feeling. It might have stemmed from the five advanced-placement classes she’d be taking. Or was it the nagging thought that this would be the year her school was shot up — again?

She paused on a page near the back of the book.

“There’s this section that goes over world news for the past year,” Tyner said. “On the first page of it, there’s this whole section about mass shootings and gun violence in America. I just thought it was interesting how things have changed and the conversation around it. There’s enough gun violence that it became a notable moment in my high school yearbook.”

COLUMBINE: 20 YEARS LATER

The Denver Post takes a look at the aftermath of the Columbine High School shooting and what has happened over the last 20 years. Click here to see more of the Denver Post’s anniversary coverage.

Tyner and her classmate Rachel Hill weren’t born yet when their high school’s name became irrevocably linked to a mass shooting that reshaped their community. Instead of growing up in the tragedy’s shadow, the two Columbine seniors have marched into the light, embracing activism in hopes of ensuring the gun violence that preceded them never repeated itself — and finding the strength to keep going when, across the country, it happened again and again.

They were in sixth grade when the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults.

“That was a defining moment for me because I learned about what happened at Columbine in fourth grade, but my innocent mind thought it was something horrible that happened one time,” Tyner said. “After Sandy Hook, I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, what happened at Columbine can happen to me.’ ”