Kacey Johnson says the Columbine tragedy crosses her mind every day.
Back in April 20 of 1999, she was known as Kacey Ruegsegger, and was a 17-year-old junior at Columbine. She had just transferred from Bear Creek and didn’t know many people. She saw the shooters for the very first time that day in the lunchroom.
Today at 34-years-old, Johnson is now married with four kids: 7-year-old Mallory, 6-year-old Logan, 3-year-old Bentley, and a little boy, Corban, who is almost two.
She still remembers every detail of what happened in that lunchroom.
“The things I saw, no teenager should ever see... and they definitely are images that stick forever.” She described hearing a teacher yelling to get down. “I ran to the closest table and I pulled a chair close to me and I just started praying. I knew I would be shot, I knew my turn was coming, I didn’t know if I was going to live or die. There was no mercy from the shooters -- he [Eric Harris] yelled at me after he shot me and I thought he would shoot me again so I closed my eyes and pretended to be dead. He told me to quit my b----ing. So I closed my eyes, went limp and quit breathing and he moved on."
Johnson was shot in the shoulder -- shattering it -- the bullet passing through her hands and across her neck. She knows she is lucky to be alive.
Despite the gunmen showing no mercy, she said she is willing to show it to the parents of the two boys who left her for dead.
“I don’t have angry feelings toward the parents, I don’t think any parent raises their kid to be a murderer. I am anxious to hear what she has to say, but not in a vengeful way.” She goes on to say, “I don’t have anger, I have questions. I would love to sit with either of the parents -- even as a parent myself now -- even just to ask, 'what did you see? Did you feel like you missed something, were you involved?'”
Kacey became an R.N. because she wanted to help people after her Columbine experience, but due of her limited mobility, she could no longer care for patients.
She now spends much of her time sharing her story, speaking to groups about tissue donation because that is what saved her arm. She also speaks to other victims of school shootings around the county about how to take the next steps after experiencing something no one should ever have to deal with.
“It’s almost like these people are joining a club that no one wants to sign up for. It seems as though those of us who went through Columbine were almost like the starters of the club, and now we have the responsibility to help these people through [the motions]. It seems like for us, after Columbine, nobody could do that... nobody could tell us down the road what life might look like”.
Today, Kacey admits she still has panic attacks and isn’t haunted so much with P.T.S.D. and flashbacks. Her family is now her focus, and all she can think about is protecting her kids. Dropping her kids off at school, that’s when thoughts of Columbine cross her mind.
“Every time I pull up to the school to drop them off I am saying a prayer over the school. And every time that I pick them up I am thankful to be bringing them home… it’s a real choice and a battle for me to let them out the door”.
What does she want you to know about her experience at Columbine? “Evil did not win. Evil is not going to win in my life and sometimes you have to choose to make that happen,” Johnson said. “I value life like the gift that it is -- it’s to be valued, treasured and respected.”