Columbine shooting survivor tells Lee students: Value yourself, and others

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LEE — Rachel Joy Scott was enjoying her lunch outside the library at Columbine High School on a warm spring day in 1999 when shots suddenly rang out.

Armed with assault weapons, Columbine students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold approached the rural Colorado school and opened fire on the 17-year-old senior and a classmate, Richard Castaldo.

Castaldo was left paralyzed, but he survived. Scott was hit with bullets to the chest, left arm and left leg. She was crawling to safety when the two teenagers came up to her. Harris delivered the fatal shot.

The prolific and aspiring writer was the first of 12 students and one teacher murdered in the school shooting. The two shooters would eventually commit suicide in the library.

On Wednesday, Scott's younger brother, Craig Scott, came to Lee Middle and High School to talk about the good from his sister's life and how it can help others.

He was speaking under the auspices of Rachel's Challenge, an organization he and his father, Darrell Scott, founded in 2003. The organization's mission is to visit schools to begin a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.

"I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way and show compassion, it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness will go," Rachel wrote in her journal. Her brother shared the quote with the audience.

Scott spent most of his 90-minute presentation illustrating — through Rachel's actions and journal writings — how to respect one another. "The biggest thing I learned from that day was the value of human life," he said. "I want you to value yourself, value others and choose things that match your values."

Scott also used humor and entertaining interaction to keep the mood light. He asked everyone to give hugs to five people in the auditorium as a way of showing value to others. Later, he had the audience, locked arm to shoulder, swaying to the song "Lean on Me," originally sung by Bill Withers.

But when Scott got serious, describing how his sister died and he survived the shooting, everyone sat in somber silence.

The then-16-year-old sophomore was in the library when the shooters came in firing, killing 10 students, including friends Isaiah Shoels and Matthew Kechter. Scott, trying to hide with his friends, survived by playing dead.

"I was lying in my friends' blood, I thought I was going to die. I started to pray," he said.

Scott would eventually escape leading several others, some wounded, to safety behind police vehicles that arrived outside the school.

Positive outlook

Scott, now 36, opened his presentation with a brief video recap of the Columbine massacre, before espousing on the importance of valuing yourself.

After reading the journals of Harris and Klebold, Scott determined low self-esteem, not bullying or despising their parents, was the main reason for their killing spree. "The two shooters didn't value themselves. They focused on the negatives in their lives," he said.

Lee Middle and High School seventh-grader Angelina Williams was surprised by that assessment. "I was surprised the two shooters did what they did because they didn't feel good about themselves," she told The Eagle after the assembly.

When it comes to valuing others, Rachel led by example. Scott recalled how his sister got between a student named Adam and the two larger high-schoolers picking on him. She managed to get the bullies to back off.

"After she died, Adam told our family he had been thinking about suicide, until that day she stepped in," Scott said.

Scott admitted that before the shooting, he wasn't always respectful of his sister and others who weren't like him. He regrets having a fight with Rachel as they drove to school on the day of the shooting, April 20, 1999. The last thing he did when he got out of the car was slam the door as he walked away.

Keeping emotions in check was one lesson Lee High junior Max Brighenti took from Scott's talk. "I never knew how emotions affected thoughts. A lot of students today act on impulse," Brighenti said.

When it comes to choosing things that match one's values, Scott says choose wisely. He urged the students to avoid addiction to drugs, alcohol, negatively influencing videos, shows and music.

Most importantly, he said, don't let Twitter, Facebook and the internet rule your lives. "Social media is having a huge influence on this generation," he said.

Rachel Scott proved to be prophetic about her role in life and the day she died.

She once traced her hand in her journal and wrote, "These hands below will someday touch millions of people's hearts."

Rachel also wrote that she would never live long enough to get married. After sharing that, Scott then put up on a video screen an image of Rachel's last drawing in her journal. It depicted her eyes shedding 13 tears that turn to 13 drops of blood as they wash over a rose.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.

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