Columbine: My Hometown 18 Years On


Written by: Robert Disney

Nights in the village were always the same. As I settled into my bed, I closed the mosquito net and flipped on my shortwave radio, always tuned to the BBC. Since becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer in the bush of Guinea-Conakry, West Africa, their radio service was the string that kept me tethered to the outside world. I don't remember what was on that night, but I do remember when they cut in on the regular programming with breaking news from Colorado. There had been a school shooting in the town of Littleton and the scene was chaotic. Police had swarmed the school and kids were clamoring to escape.

I grew up in Littleton. My sister attended Columbine, and three of her kids were now students there. I didn't sleep very well that night. And the next morning I hitched a ride in a bush taxi to the closest Peace Corps Volunteer safe house where I could try to call home.

My mom told me many students were shot and there were multiple fatalities. She said the shooters were students at the school. My niece and nephew were safe and my sister had picked them up from a designated meeting place for parents searching for their students. My brother-in-law, a member of the local SWAT team, had been called on to respond. Although shaken, he was okay.

Growing up with a police-officer dad and a step-mom, my sister, in law enforcement, meant my niece and nephew knew the sound of gunfire well. They were among the first students to run as the massacre began.

I was thankful that my family was safe. But I couldn't shake the feeling that the hometown I'd left the year before was gone for good. In the months that followed, the Brady Campaign spearheaded a referendum campaign to expand background checks to gun shows in the wake of the tragedy, undoubtedly saving countless lives. Eighteen years ago, Brady turned tragedy into meaningful change. I'm proud to be working to uphold and expand that legacy with Brady today.

Back then, I was just proud to see my community hanging on to their kindness--their humanity--in the face of the unthinkable. The proof came in a huge care package stuffed full of new soccer uniforms from Columbine & Chatfield. Columbine had simply received too many in-kind donations, including multiple sets of uniforms, and they were glad to share. And neighboring high school Chatfield, which I attended, and which hosted Columbine students following the shooting, wanted to join in too. To say the kids in my village, who played every night in the field on the road to my hut, were elated would be an understatement. Some of their families struggled to even buy a pair of flip flops and here was a school in "Ameriki" sending all of them a full set of uniforms.

That act--kindness in the midst of tragedy--is what I choose to remember. Eighteen years on, many of the kids who were at the school that day have kids of their own. And although I was right--that the hometown I left would never be the same--I can tell you that Littleton's love and goodness is stronger than ever.

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