Dateline | April 21, 2014
>>> it's five weeks before the 15th anniversary of columbine. this is the about the time every year when survivor, sam , starts feeling anxious and depressed. but this year he's decided to do something about it. a cross-country trip to meet the survivors of other school shootings in the locations where their misfortune took place. sam will travel alone, but i will join him in between stops to see how he's holding up. i look at your itinerary, jonesboro , arkansas , virginia tech , northern illinois , red lake , minnesota. that's a scary journey and can open up a lot of pain.
>> yeah, because i didn't know what it would be like to completely submerge myself in just the whole idea of school shootings and violence. just completely 24 hours a day every day.
>> sam knows he could be thrown back into his nightmares, back to that room in the cafeteria kitchen, back into that moment when he heard the shooters approaching.
>> i, i put my toes at the bottom of the door, and i didn't really feel like standing up, so i sat on the ground, wedged my toes under the door. and when the doorknob started turning it was like a horror film with the door newspaper turning slowly and the door slowly opening, and i remember laying on my back wondering if this was it. there were no more safety nets between life and death . hello my old heart, how have you been are you still there inside my chest been so worried you've been so still barely beating at all
>> driving into jonesboro , arkansas right now. and there was a middle school shooting here in 1998 , which was a year before columbine happened in march.
>> a terrible and tragic school shooting in jonesboro , arkansas , middle school youngsters were apparently tricked from leaving their classrooms to the outdoors where they were ambushed from shooters in the woods.
>> this is the first time i've ever stepped foot on the location of another school shooting . so i'm going to meet debbie and lynette . they were both teachers at west side middle school who were there during the day of the shooting.
>> just being able to be around somebody who understands can do amazing things for your emotions, for the way you feel.
>> we happened the year before, so you would have been a sophomore.
>> did you even hear about us?
>> i did. i did. but, you know, it just, it didn't stick, i don't know.
>> i think, i think, when it hasn't happened to you yet you don't notice as much. then after it happens you notice everything that happens.
>> on that march 24th , 16 years ago, debbie spencer witnessed several of her students die. lynette was critically injured. they knew the students who did the shooting.
>> did you know the shooters?
>> i knew dillen. i grew up with him, even though he was a year older than me.
>> a year's not that much.
>> we went to day care together. his older brother was friends with my older brother. he was on my friend's baseball team . it's strange when you know them personally.
>> yeah. we taught both the boys.
>> friends killing friends doesn't make sense.
>> not much does anymore sam tells the teachers, not just to him, but to many of his columbine classmates.
>> you know, i've seen my friends. they go through all this horrible stuff and then just close themself off.
>> and that's the worst thing they can do.
>> and i know people who have done that.
>> i remember when the doctors told me, one of them said you are severely clinically depressed and i started crying and said no, i'm not, and i thought, yeah, you must be or you wouldn't be crying like this. and that's when i south help from a counselor.
>> but once march rolls around and the anniversary is near, all that therapy isn't enough to keep the memories from returning. debbie once even tried leaving the country with her daughter for the anniversary. it didn't work.
>> i have always wanted to go to paris. always. it was march 24 , the day that we, the first day we were there. and i just falled and cried. i said i'm this far away, why can't i just forget for a little bit. but it was just overwhelming the emotions that i had while i was there.
>> so what are the greatest tools you have to get through the moments?
>> i said it's okay. i think that's what i learned the most, what i'm feeling is normal. it's okay.
>> one of the things that has helped lynette is forgiveness. she's even visited one of the shooters' mothers.
>> i'd go to her house, and she'd say he's just right over there. the prison was very close to their home. she was just devastated. so we just held hands and circled and prayed together. that's what you do is forgive others if you want to be forgiven.
>> i haven't really forgiven, but what i say is they're not worth thinking about. so i don't worry about it. i decided one day i've been a victim long enough. they've taken all this from me. they're not taking anything else.
>> because they had been minors when they committed the crime both shooters were released from prison when they were 21 years old.
>> our shooters are still alive, and we would love to have answers, but i think it's like they don't really know why they did what they did.
>> sam and the teachers talked for hours. and somewhere during the conversation sam starts getting this feeling, familiar, because he's felt it before, that somehow he doesn't belong here.
>> sometimes i feel like i didn't go through enough to be able to talk to --
>> yes, you did.
>> i know, but --
>> you did. and i don't care if you were shot or not, you were injured. you were a victim. and you have symptoms. and they're going to hurt. i don't think you should ever let anybody minimize that. that is, you know, you've suffered.
>> thank you for that. tell you that you're not a victim, because you are.
>> that meant so much to me when she reached out and said that i was just as equally hurt as her, who, you know, and she had been shot.
>> is that part of what you were looking for, was some sort of sense of validation that what this is really all about is entirely real?
>> yeah. debbie and lynette , they really showed me that we're all in this together, and that part was incredib incredible.
>> sam will need his newfound confidence. his journey will only get harder.