My name is Corrie Whitfield, and I was a junior in high school when I attended Columbine. I am a survivor of the mass shooting. I was in chemistry class and made it out alive.
In the middle of the class, we kind of heard like a loud banging toward that back door. And somebody had kind of made a joke, like, ‘Oh, it's a bomb.’ The teacher kind of calmed us down, went right back to work. Through our front door, another teacher kind of came in, and his face was completely white, and he didn't really have words… he just kind of stood there looking blank and didn't really know what to say. That immediately got everyone really concerned. He told us that we needed to get out or get down.
And putting two and two together, the noise from the hallway and the abundant screaming that we heard coming down the halls, his face and him telling us to either get down or get out, was enough for the teacher to have us just move into like a secondary.. kind of like an interior room.. and he made us all get down.
From there instinct kind of kicked in. I knew that I shouldn’t be getting down, I should be getting out. So I made the decision to get up from this.. I was laying flat on the floor with classmates everywhere. Everyone's in a panic mode, they're crying, they're screaming, they're just freaked out. I stood up and opened that secondary classroom’s door and there's kids running through the hall. There's also a noise that we couldn't identify at the time. We could hear glass shattering at that same time. It's the glass from the office, the windows are just breaking from that front main… it was all encased in glass. The doors, and the windows, and we're seeing the bullets kind of buzz by randomly.
Kids are running and screaming and I knew I had to run. I remember running through hallways. I felt like my feet were really really heavy. I ran track in high school but I felt like I was just moving in slow motion. I'm just running literally to the parking lot. I ended going to the parking lot and going on to Bowles Avenue.
I literally ran smack dab into a green car. I bruised my face but I smacked into the car and looked up and it was actually my mom's car. My mom was at home and heard what happened. She was on her way to the school, and just by the grace of God, I ended up running right into her car specifically. She got out in the middle of the street, got me, just threw me in the car. We ended up pulling over at Clement Park. At this point I wanted to make sure that my friends were okay.
Racial climate at school
Being a minority in Columbine, I was one of maybe five. And I knew that if gunmen were in the school, we were going to be a target.
It was very hard. Very hard… again, it was myself and maybe five others. We dealt with a lot of racial turbulence.
A lot of racial slurs were talked to us. I was a freshman in high school the first time I had ‘nigger’ written on my locker. I got into fights just based off of kids saying things, you know derogatory things about myself, and my culture, and you know, the way that I looked.
It was hard. All four years were very hard.
Remembering lost friends
Isaiah was a light. He was a joy. He was a fun kid. Everyone loved him. He was a great kid, very outgoing, everyone loved him.
When I heard that he was killed, it didn't surprise me. I just knew that they were probably going to look for more of us. But being that the school was so big, and there's only a limited number of us, we weren’t all together. It was going to be very hard to get all of us at one time, so I know that he was targeted. I feel that in my heart.
I also knew Rachel. She was fun. She was loving. She was a great friend, a great classmate. It’s sad that life has had to move on without them.
Recovering from trauma
Every April 20th, it comes back like it was last week. And every thought is still there. I mean, I look down at my feet, and I can see… I had, you know, one shoe on, and one shoe was gone, with a torn up bloody sock, and my jeans were torn, and I don't even know how it happened.
At first, it was it was every day. I mean back 20 years ago, it was every day. It felt like yesterday. Over the years, it's been… I've been okay. I can think about and not have too much angst. I can talk about it not be really too upset. When I talk about hitting my mom's car, because that that was God, you know, that that right there was something that… that's my testimony. I get emotional then.
It's gotten easier but it's definitely… time has not fully helped at all. My parents were really diligent about getting me to counseling right when it first happened. I was against it at first, but it actually helped. Talking about it has been very healing for me. Any chance I can get to talk about it, I'm okay. Fear about her daughter in school
The difficult part has been having my daughter in high school. And she is almost the same age that I was when it happened, and so that has really kind of surfaced a lot of emotions. I'm just double checking safety, I'm asking her if she's feeling safe. I'm constantly worried about her at school, and you know, does she know what exits to use and things like that, if something were to happen.
So I was really good for about 10-11 years and since she's been in high school, I've been… it's almost been right back to where it was almost 20 years ago. Just that fear of not being safe and not making it home. I just want her to make it home.
Overcoming fear of school to become a teacher
After Columbine happened, I had told myself I would never go into a school again and I ended up quitting my job at the childcare center. Just didn't want the experience ever again. I didn't feel safe.
It was all physical and psychological. I mean, my heart would race. My hands would be sweaty, I couldn’t breathe. A couple of times I would start to tear up a little bit. I didn’t know what to do the panic kind of came back. Looking around for exits, trying to figure out if something were to happen at this door, could I get out that way, what if it was through this way, could I get out this way. Those thoughts are still there, anywhere I go, but it’s a lot less anxiety at this point, and the fear isn’t there. I’m not longer driven by the fear.
It was years later when I decided I really should go back in because my love of teaching was still there. And it was hard, but I ended up going back in for the kids and haven’t looked back since. So I'm teaching kindergarten and doing that for close to 18 years. I love it. I love working with the kids. I love just teaching the kids. It's been a lot of fun.
I love what I do. I love being there in the classroom with kids. It’s kind of my way of just breaking through that fear. Again, it’s in my thoughts, it’s in the back of my mind, looking at doors, making sure I’m knowing who parents are when they’re coming to pick up, but being there and just being inspiring to children. It drives right through the fear.
Corrie Whitfield was a junior at Columbine High School in 1999. She escaped the shooting rampage by running out of her chemistry class and jumping over a fence. As one of only a few minorities on campus, she said she experienced racism during high school. Now she works as an educator.