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They never stop.
Coni Sanders’ father Dave Sanders was the only teacher killed at Columbine.
To this day, Sanders still gets bombarded with messages from what she calls “Columbiners,” people obsessed with every last detail of the massacre that took her father.
“There are hundreds of social media accounts claiming to be the killers,” Sanders said. “Worse, some claim to be my dad.”
The most disturbing thing, Sanders said, is how many mass shooters turn out to be “Columbiners” themselves.
For Sanders, it’s a clarion call to rethink how our culture, and mass media, approach mass shooters.
“Making them famous is like wrapping up a present and giving it to them,” she said.
Sanders is under no delusion that eliminating notoriety will stop mass shootings.
“Anybody with half a brain knows we’ll never be able to stop this,” she said. “It’s about reducing it, and there’s no one answer… It’s like a thousand-piece puzzle, but if we start putting it together we’ll see better results.”
Sanders said she’s frustrated by what she calls a lack of action on gun violence.
“It’s unbelievable to me that people’s beliefs outweigh their loved one’s lives.”
After her father’s death, Sanders became a forensic therapist, working with people released from prison for violent crimes, to help them chart a safer path in life.
“Right after it happened, I wondered: What happened to those two boys? I found out they did get mental health treatment. They were in a diversion program. And now I work with that program.”
Sanders said she’s not sure her work gives her any insight into Columbine specifically, but said we can all help make the world safer.
“Violence prevention is smiling at someone you normally wouldn’t,” she said. “Saying hi to someone. Striking up a conversation. The people I work with, when they’re violent, it’s when they feel left out, alone or wronged.”
Sanders said she doesn’t hold ill will over her father’s death, though she spent years angry at him for repeatedly running back into the school, braving gunfire to secure classrooms full of panicked students.
“But if he could come back, I think he’d tell us he’d do it again,” she said.
After 20 years, Sanders said, it’s high time we shift our thinking.
“This is no longer about what happened on April 20,” she said. “This is about how we have fewer April 20ths. We’re all in danger, but we have love and hope we can focus on.”
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