Diwata Quach

Columbine survivor

Video transcript

I’m Diwata. I was a senior when Columbine happened. I was in the library. I saw one of my friends die and everyone else shot around me.

We had just decided to go to the library for our lunch period, and during that time, my friends and I went in there and we heard the librarian talking… saying something that just seemed unreal almost. ‘There’s two boys with guns outside.’

And so we all looked at each other, and I remember Lauren [Townsend] turning and asking whether or not this was a joke, and if it was a senior prank, and you know, that’s not really funny at all. I just remember her saying ‘It’s not really funny at all.’

And I just remember this librarian saying, ‘Everyone get underneath the table, everyone get under the table now.’ When they entered the library, I started praying. I mean, that’s the only thing I knew to fall back on, was the faith I grew up with. So I remember saying the ‘Our Father’ when I heard the gunshots coming in through the library, and the glass being shattered around. I remember when they were getting closer to our table, that I just kept praying harder and harder and looking around under the table and just—I mean it was, it was this mixture of like unbelief and fear and, ‘Is this really occurring right now?’

And I remember Val [Schnurr] running under from the table. And I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh! What is she doing right now? I don’t, I don’t know what’s, what’s happening right now!’ And when she came back into the table, and they ricocheted all underneath the table. I mean, just went. Went for it with all the gunshots under our table.

And after they were done with our table, I felt myself and I was like, ‘I think I’m okay, I think I’m alright.’

I remember just sitting there like, ‘What am I supposed to do now? What do I do?’ I’m looking at my friends. Lauren is not waking up. I’m seeing what everyone else is doing, and everyone seems like they’re not moving, they’re not waking up. ESCAPING THE LIBRARY

And… I don’t know how long it was before we could hear that we could get out somehow. Someone was saying that the back door to the library was open, or it’s time to go now, and we were at one of the furthest parts probably from that door, able to get out. And I remember seeing Jeanna [Park] and she was hurt. And I said, ‘We gotta get out right now! This is the only way, we gotta go, we gotta get out right now.’ She’s like, ‘I can’t, I can’t move,’ and I was like ‘Oh, my gosh … but we gotta go, we gotta just get out of here, like… what are we going to do? We have to leave!”

And so I just remember I—I bolted out of there, I don’t even—smoke and my classmates and bag packs and just… this was my school.

I don’t even know how much longer later I saw Jeanna coming out a little bit longer. I remember her in the neighborhood, and she was lying in the sidewalk. She was telling me, ‘Remember to tell my mom and dad that I loved them.’ And I said, “No I won’t! You are going to tell them that. Nope! This is not going to happen!”

FRONT-PAGE ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS PHOTO

I do, I do remember that photo. She was asking me about Lauren in that photo, and whether or not she made it. And at that time, I didn’t know for sure, I was not 100% — I said, ‘She’s not, she’s not moving.’

SURVIVOR’S GUILT

I don’t remember freshman, I don’t remember my sophomore, I don’t remember my junior year, I don’t remember graduating, barely! I remember Columbine.

I was really angry at God, really upset. Just… why was I still alive? Why didn’t I get hurt? Why am I still here?

And I remember sitting in one of my classrooms and hearing some laughter happening at whatever corner in the classroom and I was like, ‘How can you even find joy in this very moment in time when this awful thing has happened?’

I mean there definitely is survivor guilt which I felt and I still feel. It’s palpable, it’s real. It was, ‘Why didn’t I stand up when Val was up there? Why didn’t I put myself in front of the gun instead? Why didn’t I roll my body over Lauren’s? Why didn’t I pull Jeanna out with me?’

It was more of like punishment, essentially, because I wasn’t injured at the time. And maybe it still is a little bit. Because I didn’t have to go through hospitalizations or I didn’t have to, you know, bury my daughter. I didn’t have to go through this other side of the trauma. ‘You’re a young person, you went through a terrible trauma, these counselors are available for you, you should go talk to someone, you should go seek someone out.’ But being able to do that… I think I just wasn’t in that place, nor did I also feel like whether or not I was ready to open myself up like that at that point in time. Because I wasn’t even ready to talk to the people closest to me, let alone a stranger to try to help, or walk me through those emotions that I was feeling as a young person.

I do remember that my parents would ask me occasionally how things were, and you know, what happened. And whether or not I was okay with talking to them about what had happened. And I actually started speaking out in different church groups, or church conferences that my parents were involved in … I think for me it helped for my own healing and it also helped them see what I had gone through.

It was probably months after, weeks after, and I remember them just saying, ‘Is it okay for us to pray for you when we do our group tonight? Is that ok?” And I think it was in that moment that I opened up to them and everyone else that was there when they were praying for my healing.

FINDING HEALING

I did not ever go to counseling. I do feel like my faith has probably been the backbone of helping me to recover or continue to recover or whatever you want to call it and I mean it was slow, I mean like I said I was angry. I used hate a lot I was, I was not in a good place when everything happened.

I think from what my parents had instilled in me from what I grew up with that’s what I knew to fall back on. I mean, I was saying the “Our Father” while I was there I—I mean… I was like was that what protected me. You know, there—there’s a sense of I was being protected…and I mean whether you believe on that or not that’s what I believe because I have that faith. And so it was a slow process of realizing that I could heal and continue to heal.

FEELINGS ABOUT THE SCHOOL

It did affect my relationships in the beginning, for sure, because I was pushing away the people that were closest to me. And probably why I don’t keep in touch with a lot of people from Columbine now. In the beginning we really did, I mean it was… I feel like a feeling of just comradery and community… never discussing the event, because we all knew, we all had our own story. We all were affected in a different way.

And then, what was hard with our class is because we were seniors so, it was hard to stay together with those, I think people that we were close with, because college changes a lot of us or all of us and when we all went our separate ways we were—I remember when I was talking with Mr. D [former Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis]. He was like, ’Yours was the class, the class that didn’t get closure,’ almost I think is what he said. And I thought about that and I said, ‘You’re right.’

I mean I have never gone back to that school willingly, like on my own. The two times that I went back there I didn’t see the library I couldn’t bring myself to go back up there to see what it looked like. And I went there for my sister because she was still there, and she had plays or musicals that she was a part of. And I remember…being really anxious the first time walking into the school.

IMPACT OF LATER SCHOOL SHOOTINGS

Any time a shooting has happened, that hits me right back, it hits me right back with everything that happened at Columbine.

I don’t know what those people are going through with that particular situation, because I only know my own. But I can fully understand and feel what that person is feeling like, crouching down underneath the table or behind a movie theater seat or by a tree. I can feel what they’re feeling, almost.

FINDING PURPOSE

So, I definitely did become a nurse because of Columbine, more specifically because when I saw Jeanna, who was my very good friend at the time, injured and I remember just breaking down at the hospital when we visited her and she was like, ‘I’m fine, I’m okay.’ And I was just watching these nurses, and the medical team like going in there and caring for her... and I was like ‘I want to do that. I want to be someone who can take care of someone else when they can’t do it themselves.’

Because I survived, there’s a reason why I survived. Because I survived, I’m a stronger person. Because I survived, my daughter is here, my son is here. I’m married. I have people around me that love me. I’m God-fearing. Because I survived, I have something to do in this world.

Diwata Perez Quach was in the Columbine library and took cover under a table with four other students. The killers fired many shots with a shotgun and rifle under their table, killing one of Diwata’s friends and seriously wounding all three others. Diwata was uninjured but still carries the traumatic memories and survivor’s guilt. She says her decision to become a nurse is a direct result of her Columbine experience.