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After Tragedy, Survivors Create Inspiring Organizations

See the organizations many of the survivors we spoke with started in an effort to turn their tragedy into something positive.

Columbine Wounded Minds

Columbine: Wounded Minds is a documentary project about the survivors of tragedies and what happens after the news cameras stop rolling; how they have picked up the pieces and continued living. It aims to help find long-term healing for the millions of individuals who suffer through traumatic events and are left with a lifetime of mental scarring.

As a survivor of the Columbine shooting of April 20, 1999, Sam Granillo’s original idea was to find a way to tell his own story; to raise awareness of and get help for the lasting effects that he and fellow Columbine survivors suffered. After digging deeper, he realized that it's a much broader worldwide issue that needs to be addressed. The project raises awareness of the importance of mental health, of active healing, and brings people together by connecting communities across the world via social medias and other interpersonal relationships. It's not just a documentary; it's a project, a movement and a journey.

You can watch the trailer here.

Westside Middle School Memorial Garden Fund

At Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas Sam met with two teachers Debbie Spencer and Lynette Thetford. Debbie, who still teaches at the same school today, has made it her goal to preserve the memorial garden, which was created in honor of the four students and teacher who lost their lives on the playground on March 21, 1988. The memorial, which is located in the renovated playground, has weathered over the years and Debbie, along with Westside Schools has created a fund to help restore it.

Koshka Foundation for Safe Schools

Virginia Tech shooting survivor Kristina Anderson went on to create the Koshka Foundation, a non profit which is dedicated to improving campus safety, educating students, and building a comprehensive network of survivors. The foundation was started to ensure that the memory of April 16th, the day of the Virginia Tech shooting, is continued in a meaningful way. And it was through her work with the Koshka Foundation that Kristina first met Sam Granillo at a conference held at Columbine High School. They both bonded over their shared goal of connecting survivors of school shootings.

HOPE Worldwide

One of Sam’s most emotional breakthroughs on his journey came at Northern Illinois University where he met with marriage and grief counselor, Joe Dubowski. Joe who lost his daughter Gayle on the Valentine’s Day shooting in 2008, went on to get a degree in counseling and write a book, “Cartwheels in the Rain: Finding Faith in the Wake of the Unthinkable.” In memory of his daughter HOPE Worldwide, an international charity, created the Gayle Dubowski Fund for Youth. The fund supports work done in orphanages run by HOPE Worldwide in Russia and the former Soviet countries, the places where Gayle was interested in traveling someday.

I Love U Guys

When Sam returned to Columbine High School he met up with his Principal Frank DeAngelis, who is retiring this year. Frank works with the I Love U Guys foundation, which was founded in honor of Emily Keys. On September 27, 2006 a gunman entered Platte Canyon High School and held seven girls hostages, he then shot and killed Emily. While she was held hostage, Emily sent her parents text messages, “I love you guys” and “I love u guys, k?” The “I Love u Guys” Foundation was created to restore and protect the joy of youth through educational programs and positive actions in collaboration with families, schools, communities, organizations and government entities.

Phoenix 999

Sam has remained close with many of his friends from high school, and when he returned to Columbine at the end of his 10-day journey he invited some of them to meet him at the school. Joining him were Zachary Cartaya and Stephen Huock- founders of a non-profit organization, Phoenix 999. Their organization is dedicated to supporting victims of mass violence and those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Phoenix 999 was created in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado Theater shooting, as an effort to provide financial and educational resources to victims of violence and violent crime. Their mission is to provide financial and educational resources to victims of and victims’ families affected by mass tragedy and violence.

The Rebels Project

Heather Egland, another one of Sam's former classmates who joined him at Columbine, was also pushed into action in the wake of the shootings in Aurora, Colorado. The day after the 2012 shootings at the movie theater, Heather's classmate Jennifer Hammer sent her a text, "What do you think about starting a group of shooting survivors that can be available for victims?" to which Heather quickly responded, "I'm in." From there The Rebels Project was born, their main goal from that day forward was to reach out to the Aurora community to let them know they were not alone, and today their message continues to be: You Are Not Alone. The Rebels Project, provides information and support for those seeking help, advice, and above support from people who have gone through a similar event. Both Heather and Jennifer spoke to NBC about their long path to healing and the creation of their support group.

Crystal Woodman Miller

Also joining Sam was another classmate and Columbine survivor, Crystal Woodman Miller. Crystal has gone on to write a book, “Marked For Life: Choosing Hope and Discovering Purpose After Earth-Shattering Tragedy.” She’s also an international speaker on the issues of faith and hope in the midst of suffering, choosing to speak out and share her story in an effort to prevent school violence and help those, who unfortunately have already been impacted by it.

Rachel’s Challenge

Sam lost several of his close friends at Columbine including one of his best friends Rachel Scott. Rachel who was eating lunch outside on the day of the shooting was the first victim of the shooting. After her death her family went on to create a nonprofit organization in her honor. Rachel’s Challenge is a series of student empowering, educator motivating programs and strategies that equip students and adult to create and sustain safe, caring and supportive learning environments essential for academic achievement. The programs are based on the writings and life of Rachel, who left a legacy of reaching out to those who were different, who were picked on by others, or who were new at her school. Members of her family, including her brother Craig Scott, who was also at Columbine on the day of the shootings, give the Rachel’s’ Challenge Presentations in schools and communities across the country.

A Sandy Hook-Columbine Cooperative

Following Sam’s journey he has since reached out to other school shooting survivors in the Denver area, including parents of a Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting survivor, Dave and Carly Posey. The Poseys, whose children where at school on the day of the 2012 shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, moved to Denver. They soon reached out to the Columbine community and created the Sandy Hook-Columbine Cooperative. An organization aimed at finding ways to help schools and communities prepare, respond, then recover from a traumatic event. They are committed to making a difference for those whose lives are forever changed by the experience of traumatic loss.