Dateline | April 21, 2014
>>> sam is the kind of guy you'd be happy to call your friend. he's a 32-year-old filmmaker, lives in denver, loves his girlfriend sarah, loves his dog rocco, has been known to make his own beer from time to time. he loves his job as a camera assistant on commercial shoots, sometimes. sam likes silly clothes. he's got some silly moves. the man's got silly tattoos, too. one says silly hats only. he's an advanced hula ho-hoophula-hooper. he's known at ponder monster. he leaves little paintings around town. he calls himself a professional dream chaser . that's sam . for around 11 months out of every year. but then april rolls around.
>> there's a particular smell in the air, it's like very sweet, you know. everything starts blossoming. it's a time when everything starts coming to life. and really all i can think about is death.
>> sam , you see, is a graduate of columbine high school . and he was there on april 20 , 1999 , 15 years ago today.
>> a mass shooting at an american school , this time a high school in suburban denver. at least two young men dressed in black trench coats entered the school and randomly opened fire.
>> how do you see the anniversary? do you see it as a day? or a set of weeks?
>> it's kind of like a time period . january goes by, february goes by, and then i start to get the feeling around march.
>> and then you fall off a cliff?
>> yeah. pretty much. it's more like hitting a brick wall , emotionally. and you can see it coming from a mile away. and it's that anticipation of april is that wall coming.
>> every year sam hopes he can break the cycle, but so far he has failed to come to terms with that tragic day. sam was a 17 year old junior then. he was sitting in the cafeteria, studying for a test when the shooting began, and soon found himself trapped in a room with 17 other people, hiding from the shooters.
>> i heard this boom. and it still didn't really connect. and then i heard a couple more, like ba, ba. and then i scramble around the corner and into the kitchen. and when i get back there, there's a woman cafeteria worker pulling a door open. the room is packed with people. and i turn around, i close the door . and naturally, you're going to want to lock the door. so i look at this handle, and there's no lock at all. we could hear the voices and the explosions and gunshots getting closer and closer.
>> the memories. they have haunted sam to this day.
>> some people might have the notion that, you know, it's been ten years, it's been 15 years. why aren't you over it already. and it doesn't really work like that. these memories are just as powerful as physical scars.
>> no one can understand sam 's inner struggle better than his columbine classmates and his principal, frank deangeles.
>> sam is still processing what has happened and still having some difficulties. is it common? are you all still finding the same thing?
>> sometimes you feel great, and you almost think that everything's in the past. and then one little thing can come along and you're right back to where you were 15 years ago.
>> i went to college right afterwards and they did a fire drill . it's a fire drill . all of a sudden i froiz and tears started streaming down my face. i couldn't understand it. i doesn't move.
>> do you have to have been physically wounded to still be traumatized 15 years later?
>> absolutely not.
>> everybody who was part of columbine high school experienced grief. this past week i'm getting phone calls from parents and students from 1999 . can you talk to my son? he's been in and out of substance abuse.
>> there's thouno bleeding.
>> you can't see it.
>> i think that's the problem. culture does move on so quickly that they think oh, you're fine. you look fine on the outside. everything appears to be fine.
>> it's been 15 years.
>> the whole world watched while i was trapped in that room.
>> what was required, sam decided, was a collective cry claiming we are not fine.
>> my life hasn't been the same ever since.
>> so several years ago he started interviewing several other survivors for a film project he called columbine, wounded minds.
>> this documentary is about finding counseling for those who still need it, like myself.
>> i'm getting the impression that what you're hoping to do is tapping into the network of other survivors, find your counseling there.
>> yeah. i've found a lot of answers with every single person that i've talked to.
>> the most personal of answers, though, has eluded sam . what to do about april. but he hopes that this year he's found a way. a ten-day journey to share experiences with other survivors. that with dateline's help will take him to west side middle school in jonesboro, arkansas. red lake high in red lake , minnesota. northern illinois university in de kalb , illinois and blacksburg, virginia. all places that were touched by the same senseless violence as columbine, which is where sam plans to return at the end of his journey to finally confront some long-held fears.
>> i was hoping to find and learn new tools for the life-long healing process and be able to bring them home and share them with some of my friends.
>> but it's a risky trip, especially for a person with as much emotional baggage as sam .
>> that's a really scary thing for you to confront yourself with and say that it's okay to put yourself through it.