Evan Todd, a survivor of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting massacre, spoke to Paris High School and Middle School students last Friday about character, bullying and the day he should have died.
That day was April 20, 1999 and Todd was a 15-year-old sophomore at the Colorado high school. Todd was in the school library shortly after 11 a.m. hiding from one of his football coaches. That’s because Todd was supposed to be running as punishment. "I’d have been better off running," Todd said.
The shooting began at 11:19 a.m. Todd could hear what he described as loud explosions outside. As they got closer to the library, "people realized it was gunfire and began to panic." Then, a teacher came into the library and told everyone to get down under tables. She had been shot in the shoulder.
Todd was peeking from behind a pillar in the library when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, both carrying weapons, entered the library. He saw one of them put a shell into a shotgun. Todd then dove for a copier as the firing started. Todd, the first student in the library shot, was injured in his face, neck and back. Todd was one of 23 students wounded in the library and nine people were killed there.
The shooters eventually found Todd hiding under a desk.
"I saw the boots coming. I looked up and they had a gun pointed to my head," he said. "They asked me ‘why shouldn’t we kill you?’"
Todd answered with these words: "I’ve been good to you and everyone in this school knows it." Each killer then suggested the other kill Todd before walking out of the library. It was 11:36 a.m., 17 minutes after the shooting began. Todd was the last person the killers talked to before exiting the library.
For the next 32 minutes, the two students wandered through the building firing guns and setting off bombs, but injuring no one. They went back into the cafeteria at 11:44 a.m. They re-entered the library at 12:02 p.m. Someone hiding in a break room heard the shooters count to three in unison, then the sound of gun fire.
For Harris and Klebold, it was over. For the survivors, it would take more time.
"That evening and the days that followed were some of the worst," Todd told the students. "Four of my friends didn’t make it. Going to funerals and the hospital at 15 is tough."
Todd told the students that Columbine taught him there are going to be tough times. He and friends spent days and weeks talking about what happened that April day and it helped. "When you do that, you realize you are not alone," Todd said.
He also talked about the importance of character.
"For better or worse, we all have character," he said. "The two shooters developed bad character.
"I made a decision to spend my life being a better person every day," he told the students. "You have to develop yourself first."
He also talked to the students about making choices.
"This world has a lot to offer for better or worse," he said. "You can do amazing things or you can ruin your life."
Students also asked Todd about other school shootings that have taken place and about school security.
"The best way to make schools safer," he said, "is to develop better people."