"I'm 22 years down the road and it's still something I'm dealing with."

Crystal Woodman Miller remembers the weight of what it felt like to be at Day 1, or "Ground Zero," after the Columbine High School shooting 22 years ago.

"There's nothing that makes sense in those days."

As the victims' families, as well as the Boulder and Colorado community, grieve and survey the aftermath of the horrific King Soopers mass shooting, which took 10 lives. OCN had the privilege to be on a Zoom call with Miller today to capture her thoughts on the King Soopers mass shooting. Miller, thankfully, isn't activated by these familiar and terrifying images; she's experienced tremendous healing over the past 22 years, but she notes: 

"I can very easily tap back into the feelings and the emotions and remember the chaos, the fear, the panic, the sadness, and the grief and the stages that you go through. It's so intense for such a long time that my heart just breaks for the people who are immediately involved. My heart breaks and grieves for these people knowing the journey they have to face, knowing that they are at Day 1, Ground Zero, of a very long process and journey, and all that entails. I'm 22 years down the road, and it's still something I'm dealing with." 

When asked about the extraordinary account of mass shootings within Colorado, Miller stated:

"It's Colorado community that's grieving yet again. It feels like the hits just keep coming to Colorado. More than any other state, we've had more of these mass attacks. It's hard to wrap your head and heart around the magnitude of that alone of how much our community has been hit." 

We asked Miller if she could imagine if we had social media back in Columbine 22 years ago:

"I can't even begin to fathom the mess that would have been—that social media would have caused ... The Columbine survivors really came together and unified as a community 'because we had to.' There wasn't all these outside voices ... we really gelled as a community and came together because we realized how important it was—we needed one another; we needed community. And those of us a part of the community could also have a better understanding of what we had been through. It's really hard for outsiders to come in with opinions and their thoughts and ideas, and so we really focused in. And now what I've seen, down the road ... by and large social media is more of a hindrance and a roadblock to healing because you immediately have people coming in with they're angry: this person wants guns; this person doesn't, so then that becomes a forum for them to begin debating, fighting over this political issue ... it becomes such a storm, a mess for people to give their thoughts and opinions."

She notes there are some really beautiful things going on through social media with fundraisers and people with beautiful hearts, but especially in the initial days, social media causes more damage:  

"Especially in the initial days, it is so important when people just say, 'Love you,' 'I'm praying for you,' 'We're here for you,' thoughts, prayers, and condolences. And even that has become something that is wrong to say. They'll get angry because people are giving condolences or saying 'We're praying for you' because 'We want action!' I think it's really a hindrance."

So where do we even start as grieving families and communities? Miller was very clear that this is just the beginning and it's imperative to allow yourself and those around you to grieve:

"People are just in shock; they are grieving. They haven't even begun to process all of their emotions, all of their feelings; it's everything they've seen and heard, let alone the implications politically or in their community."

Miller gives us three ways to begin the grieving process:

1. Sit and really feel your emotions. Be present with your emotions (anger, sadness, etc.), whatever they may be.

2. Make sure to reach out for help when you know you need it: 

  • Victim Advocate programs available at the city and county level.
  • A place of worship or like-minded organizations or people
  • A trauma-care therapist 
  • If you're a survivor, connect with a community of survivors.

3. Give yourself grace. Never rush past the grief stage. 

Miller was 16 years old when she hid under a table in the Columbine library as the shooters took the lives of her classmates. Since then, she has gone on to write an account of her harrowing story of survival, but even more importantly, her healing: Marked for Life. She continues to speak, comfort, and advocate hope on behalf of survivors of mass shootings, traveling all over the nation to be a physical presence of help in the face of tragedy, and building a network of healing for survivors which includes healing retreats

Miller is usually on the ground, interacting with survivors and victims' families, but COVID has kept her home. There was resolve in her voice, even as it broke when she spoke of her heartache for the victims and the survivors. As she hunkered down in her closet to speak with me over Zoom, there was a mutual feeling of heaviness over even having to have this conversation, but the hopeful advocate came out when she talked about there still being a deficit in mobile resources for survivors and victims' families in tragedies such as these—even 22 years later, and her resolve to help bring these resources about.

In her parting words, Miller left us all with hope:

"Hope is available to you. This is not the end, and there are steps forward and through this to get to the other side. Let yourself be helped."

For more resources go to Colorado Healing Fund (founded by former Columbine principal, Frank DeAngelis) or to connect with Crystal Woodman Miller, go to https://www.facebook.com/woodmanmiller