My name is Amber Sanders, and in the Columbine shooting I lost my grandfather. And along with that, I lost a mentor, a coach, person who could have taught me basketball, softball. I lost the person who would have tucked me in at night and been there whenever I needed them. I lost a grandparent.
They will say, ‘Well, it’s been how many years, just let it go,’ or ‘How did this affect you, you were just a baby?’ Nobody understands the long-term effect of growing up around it.
It was the first big talk that my mom ever had with me. Before then it was more just—‘It was a sad thing that happened, your grandpa isn’t here anymore,’ but once I got old enough, I might have been around 7 or 8 maybe. Once I got old enough, she sat me down and she explained to me what really happened and… just comprehending, because I didn’t really understand what guns were, I didn’t understand why anybody would do something so terrible. I didn’t understand, and all I kept thinking in my head was, ‘Why would somebody take away this person that I was supposed to know? Why would somebody take away the person that everyone talks so highly about?’
Especially by the time that I was in middle school, people knew about Columbine, people knew what happened, people loved to idolize it and I don’t—I will never understand why but every time somebody came to say a term of it, or… I’ve been through probably 4 active shooter drills, and it came to a point where they had to send me home. The first one, I was in math class and then an alarm just started going off and they were talking over the intercom, saying there was an active shooter. And then they would say, ‘This is just a drill, this is just a drill,’ and they said it over and over on the intercom. I… just couldn’t hear the part that it was a drill, because they said there was an active shooter first. I just got under a table and I was terrified. I had a cell phone. I tried to call my mom but she was working and I texted her and said, ‘Mom, they’re saying that there’s an active shooter, and I don’t know what to do. I know you said to hide.’ And I was hiding under a table and everyone else was just, you know they were doing what you were supposed to do. You were supposed to hide, turn all the lights off. We were all hiding, but to them it was a drill, and they were laughing, and you know what kids usually do during a fire drill, they mess around. It bothered me because I – as soon as they said that, I just didn’t comprehend that it was just a drill, I couldn’t hear that part.
My first day of first grade, my mom cried before I went to school and did not want to let me go. I didn’t really understand that because I was six or seven. She cried so hard she wouldn’t let me go she said how much she loved me, over and over, and tried for a long time to get me to understand if anything happens you know you hide, you, you ask somebody help or you just hide. That was the biggest thing, just hide. I didn’t understand it at all.
Everybody absorbs the emotions around them, I think, and growing up with those kind of emotions for so many years, and then hearing the stories and hearing about something so tragic, and then knowing you didn’t get to know that person like you should have is extremely—it destroys you. And I went to therapy for years with one person I ended up trusting, and it helped me a lot to understand what happened and how to deal with it. It helped me understand that it’s okay to not have him around, but I can’t be mad or upset over it for the rest of my life.
Amber Sanders is Coni Sanders’ youngest daughter. She was an infant when her grandfather Dave Sanders was killed at Columbine, but she says the incident has shaped her life profoundly.