Fifteen years after the Columbine High School shooting that left 13 dead, survivors Jennifer Hammer and Heather Egeland have found purpose in helping their classmates heal.
In August 2012 after admitted perpetrator James Holmes opened fire on a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, just 20 miles from Columbine, Hammer, 33, and Egeland, 32, founded a group for survivors to help them overcome the post-traumatic stress often re-triggered by such events.
NBC News reports
that The Rebel Project — named for the school's mascot — saw immediate success when on Aug. 1, 2012, 50 Columbine survivors gathered in the Peace Mennonite Community Church not far from the theater.
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"The Columbine class was falling apart," Egeland recalled.
She said the "lost class" of 1999 has struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, suicide attempts, and other hardships caused or contributed to by their experience that fateful day.
Describing the gathering, she said the survivors were "sobbing, couldn’t complete their sentences. Couldn’t finish their stories because they were too busy crying."
"It was a turning point for us, just seeing that," Hammer said. She reported that for many, it was the first form of therapy they'd received since the shooting. Many finally admitted to themselves that they should seek professional, one-on-one counselling, she said.
Not long after, The Rebels Project began reaching out to other mass-shooting survivors. It organized a charity fundraiser for Avielle Rose Richman, a 6-year-old killed in the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Avielle's father, Jeremy Richman, has become good friends with Egeland and Hammer, and now helps helm the group's Facebook page.
"It gives me an outlet and recognition that I’m not alone, and that there are people out there who can help, and that I can help my healing process by helping others. That ability to empathize, to listen and hear, makes us human, and I think it’s critical that we do that," he said.
Hammer reports that the group is working on raising a travel fund for further outreach to more survivors. "We can see ourselves after 20 years with Rebels Projects around the country, sent out to different locations to be support groups for people."
She reports that many of the survivors have been empowered by telling their stories, which has inspired some to begin leading other healing group activities like Tai Chi.
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