Columbine teacher Paula Reed still mourns the students she knew best

The sun had set on Columbine High School before teacher Paula Reed understood that 12 students and one teacher had been killed — and Dylan Klebold, one of her students, had been one of the shooters.

“I can’t even begin to express how unthinkable it was,” Reed said. “To tell me that we need to be on the lookout for possible shooters in our school would be like telling me, ‘You really should watch out for a possible alien invasion.’”

Every day, Reed thinks of the three victims she knew best: Rachel, the girl on her forensics team; Dan, the debater who joined the team to overcome a fear of public speaking; Isaiah, the kid who spent more time in the halls joking with friends than sitting at his desk.

Even now, she hates fire drills. The packed halls and flashing lights bring back memories of what started as a beautiful morning in April 1999 until she heard kids yelling, “They’ve got guns!” She thought they were joking.

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After the shooting, Reed struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, which came along with extreme depression, anxiety and chronic headaches. Her dark brown hair fell out in clumps. By 2001, she couldn’t enter the school without breaking out in hives. She couldn’t handle the triggers of jam-packed hallways, crowds of students and the chance that what happened years ago could happen again. She kept telling herself to get a grip.

Recovery took time. It took two years away from school, writing romance novels with happy endings. Back at work, Reed is doing better now. But she sees risk everywhere.

Paula Reed

Even before the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, she had a contingency plan for what might happen if a shooter walked into a crowded movie theater. She’d throw her children to the ground and act like a human shield. She’d be ready.

But she’s not afraid. She saw “The Dark Knight Rises” the day after people were killed watching it in the Aurora shooting.

“I don’t live my life scared,” she said. “If I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that safety is an illusion. So obviously I don’t do stupid things to risk that, but neither do I believe that I have much control.

“Life is a crapshoot.”

This story was informed by a source in the Public Insight Network.

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    Jacy Marmaduke

    Jacy Marmaduke is a senior journalism and political science student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is a News 21 Peter Kiewet Fellow.