Op-Ed: What A Columbine Survivor Taught Me About Trauma

Columbine 21 years later: Austin Eubanks survived a high school massacre, until he didn’t.

Austin Eubanks was 17 years old on April 20, 1999. He was in the library at lunchtime with his best friend Corey DePooter planning their next fishing trip before heading to the cafeteria. When they realized what was happening, there was nowhere to go but under the table they were sitting at. Huddled together under a desk, Austin was shot once in the knee and in his hand. Corey was shot in the arm, chest, and neck, and bled to death next to his best friend. Eleven other students and one teacher were shot to death at Columbine High School 21 years ago today. Their bodies lay on the floors of the library, cafeteria, and classrooms all day and overnight, until the police determined it was safe to enter and recover them.

Austin’s memory of the moments after Corey’s death in the library were hazy. His clearest memory was watching his father jump over a fence to get to him, which is also when he described feeling the pain start to set in — the physical pain of sustaining two gunshot wounds, the emotional pain of the loss of his best friend, the onset of trauma hit him right at that moment. Austin said he became an addict in that moment, the moment that felt he needed to be numb. His wounds were superficial, but he kept taking prescription opioids for the emotional pain that he couldn’t control. He spent over a decade in active addiction following the shooting, eventually getting clean and helping to start a long-term rehabilitation facility in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He became a motivational speaker, and after a TED Talk he gave in 2017 on the topic of pain went viral, he became a leader in the recovery community. He died of a drug overdose in May of 2019

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FILE – In this April 28, 1999, file photo, a woman stands among 15 crosses posted on a hill above Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in remembrance of the 15 people who died during a school shooting on April 20. In the decades since Columbine, there’s been a growing call for media to avoid naming the gunmen in mass shootings. The idea is to avoid inspiring future shooters who seek infamy and notoriety. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)