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Students share what it’s like to return to school after a shooting

Thousands take to Reddit to discuss the haunting aftermath of gun violence.


Lyz Lenz


Posted on Sep 7, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 2:06 am CDT

Enduring the horror of a school shooting is hard for many of us to imagine, much less the aftermath of such trauma—what is it like to return, day after day, to the place where your friends were shot?

A recent Reddit thread offers insight into the minds and hearts of school-shooting survivors. One poster recalls going back to Columbine High School after the 1999 shooting that killed 13 and injured dozens more, and the singular pain of having to retrieve backpacks from cars that had been held by the police.

“They kept our cars and other belongings for several months,” wrote user knightfall. “This created a lot of issues, as most high school students don’t have multiple cars to get to school. Also, a lot of us left our backpacks when we finally got out of the school. I always had my wallet in there, so I didn’t have any credit cards, IDs, etc. Also, the sprinklers came on after, so when I did finally get my stuff back, it was moldy and mostly ruined.”

Others recall less-infamous shootings, in which schools were often quick to gloss over the violence. 

“A Mexican girl got shot in the leg by a rival gang at lunchtime at my high school,” wrote one user. “We didn’t even go home, only on lockdown for about 45 mins. They hosed off the concrete before second lunch started, and we continued on about our day.”

Another user shed light on what it’s like to be nearly numb to constant violence, remembering returning to her school in Bosnia after it had been bombed multiple times. “School and community fix what could be fixed,” she wrote. “Life went on. Education is important.”

One of the most heart-wrenching tales came from DoctorKynes, who writes about going back to Virginia Tech after the 2007 shooting. “Personally, I spent the next few months truly afraid something would happen again. Every time I was in class and heard noises in the hallway, my heart rate would go up and I would breath a little heavier. Eventually, I came to peace with it, and I only rarely have those moments. I put aside a lot of personal anger and conflict that I had prior to the shooting.”

The thread goes on to recall shootings at Penn State and Sandy Hook, with former students discussing the traumas of not just mass shootings but accidental gun violence and suicide. One poster shared the realities of having to cope with diabetes on lockdown. It is impossible to get through a handful of the 4,500 comments without crying—or at least contemplating the impact gun violence has in America’s schools.

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*First Published: Sep 7, 2016, 1:15 pm CDT