Dateline   |  April 21, 2014

The Road Home, part 4

One of Sam’s most emotional breakthroughs comes at Northern Illinois University where he meets Joe Dubowski, who lost his daughter Gayle in the 2008 shootings. Joe, a grief and marriage counselor, gives Sam a shoulder to lean on and some great advice as he shares a story about another tragic shooting.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we're not alone. and we aren't as isolated as we

>> we're on the road with sam as he tries to make sense of his journey so far.

>> you say not alone, but you're also not forgotten. people talk about columbine. they talk about virginia tech . they don't often talk about red lake , minnesota.

>> we don't remember all of the shootings, unfortunately, for a number of reasons. and one of them being that there are just so many.

>> in the aftermath of each school shooting , one question inevitably takes center stage . would stricter gun laws make a difference. sam is thankful the issue hasn't come up in any of his conversations so far.

>> there's no one answer. every shooting and every situation is so unique of how it's cultivated, how it happened. it's its own fingerprint. there are things that could prevent it, but it didn't happen. it just feels like if someone wants to do something they will. which is scary. i mean, people will always find a way. it's just how we deal with it afterwards.

>> and the story of how one man has dealt with his suffering is what brings sam to de kalb , illinois.

>> i'm going to meet joe joe deboughski who lost his daughter.

>> the bulletin came today from the campus of northern illinois university , a big school about an hour due west of chicago. a young man had fired a gun at students in a lecture hall .

>> as part of his healing process , jdee sided to go back to school and get a marriage and grief counseling degree at the same university where his daughter was killed.

>> hey, joe .

>> sam , welcome to de kalb .

>> she was so unassuming, wondering how can i make a difference in the world for god.

>> yeah.

>> and for people's lives and everything.

>> do you come here to reflect? or is it, or is it just nice to know that it's there?

>> occasionally. occasionally. it's kind of a remembrance that it's real, you know. just sometimes it just hard to, hard to believe that, okay. i'm really here. this has really happened.

>> sam understands exactly what joe is talking about. for years after columbine he was in denial, believing he could return to the life he had before the shooting. that optimistic 17-year-old boy innocent and safe without the memory of violence or trauma. but how could he? come april, this wish for a normal life inevitably gave way to the nightmares of that life and death struggle to keep the shooters out of that room.

>> and the door opened about that much. and there was just a little bit more of a struggle, and then it was gone. you know, we did everything we could to keep the door shut, and they never got it open.

>> an s.w.a.t. team finally freed sam and his classmates three and a half hours later. he would never return to that room again.

>> when i stepped outside of the school right in front of my feet was a dead body . and, you know, your mind does a lot of things to try and protect you from getting damaged, and i think it just stopped at that point.

>> sam soon realized he had lost several good friends that day. but he kept his pain hidden for a very long time.

>> took me ten years to realize that i was ready to open up and to try and get something out of the things that were going on inside me.

>> mm-hm.

>> and by then, everyone had disappeared. have you experienced anything like that? or --

>> yes, you just need to be proactive about letting people, reminding people that you're there.

>> right.

>> and you need help.

>> you know, i find it really interesting now that i'm sitting with someone who is exactly like someone that i would want to talk to, because you understand, and if i say something, you can respond and relate and, like, that's what i'm looking for.

>> and then sam tells joe a story he told few people before, about another loss. not at columbine, but more than 13 years later at the movie theater shooting in aurora, colorado. sam lives just 20 minutes from the theater. and in the hours after the shooting, he realized that an acquaintance that was close to some of his best friends was possibly among the 12 victims who had been killed. he joined his friends as they waited for news in the apartment. if it was bad, sam knew they'd need a lot of emotional support.

>> i was like, there's got to be a way i can help. i know what they're going through. and i knew, and i think they knew, too, that we were just sort of waiting around for the worst phone call ever.

>> the call, when it came, was devastating.

>> and, yeah. my friend got on the phone and you could just sort of see it in his face, what he was being told. and he hangs up the phone. he looks at me, and he just shakes his head. and i, i lost it.

>> violence had touched you again.

>> yeah. and then i felt like i needed more help than any of them. there's, there's just like nothing i can do. and i hate that i can't, i wasn't able to be there the way i thought i was able to be there for them.

>> think of how when you're flying on an airplane, they tell you if the oxygen masks drop from the, put yours on first and then help your children and those who are unable to help themselves. kind of that way.

>> that's a good way to put it.

>> yeah.

>> take care of yourself first.

>> yeah.

>> so you can be of use to other people.

>> exactly.

>> i learned something that i could have never expected, and it was so, and it's so simple.

>> but it makes so much sense, doesn't it?

>> it does, being able to open up to him and get sort of the feedback that i've always been looking for was really incredible.

>> but back in his hotel room , sam 's mood is not as positive. being that vulnerable time and time again on this journey is taking its toll.

>> this trip completely worn me down, made me sick. i have a cold. it's torn up my insides. god, this is so degrading. this is non-stop intensity.

>> but there is someone who sam hopes can help ease his anxiety.

>> oh, yeah, there she is.

>> can this emotional reunion help