Lance Kirklin

Columbine survivor

Video transcript

My name is Lance Kirklin. I was shot five times at Columbine High School.

We walked out and we heard fireworks and then we saw the guy with a gun. I convinced myself that was paintball, it was a senior prank. And he started spraying the ground in front of us, and you can kind of hear it and see it.

Dan [Rohrbough] went down, and I felt like a sharp pain in my foot. And then seconds later, maybe at the same time, my knee felt like it went out. And then this knee got hurt, and then it felt like somebody punched me in the chest.

So he shot me four times and I blacked out, and then woke up sensing that somebody was behind me. And I could see the shadow, and I put my hand up to ask for help, just figured it was paintball that had hit a nerve or whatever. And he said, ‘Sure, I'll help you’ and I looked up a little bit … and he didn't grab my hand. So I just laid back down. He put the shotgun right behind my ear and pulled the trigger.

So, I’m clearly in shock. I mean, I’ve almost completely bled out. The shot in my leg severed my femoral artery. And so I kinda hear chaos, and I wake up again, and I see somebody run past me, and they go and check on Dan, and Dan had died at that time.

And I’m thinking to myself, the last time I asked for help, nobody helped me. Oh screw it, I’ll do it again. So I put my hand up and it was Monte Fleming, the paramedic. So he picked me up and I kept telling him put me down, put me down, I’m fine. And he’s running and carrying me and just hucked me into the back of the ambulance.

PHYSICAL RECOVERY

It was somewhere around 35 surgeries I think - maybe a few more or less, I don't know. But now, physically I'm fine.

From day one of the hospital it was just about progress, like what's the next thing that I need to do to get out of the hospital and just get better. So that was my main focus for that 1st year.

That first year, two years, it feels like every other month I was having something done. It just got to the point in 2001 where I found out that I was going to be a dad, and I was trying to pay my bills and live out on my own. And it was just too much at that time, mentally and physically, to just keep doing surgeries, so I stopped. And I think the doctors could sense that it was coming to an end anyway.

OVERCOMING A ‘TRIGGER’

Since I got out, if I hear gunfire far away, or something that sounds like it, and it’s out of place, I get nervous.
I love to hunt. I love to be outdoors doing anything, and so it was important to me to not be afraid, so as soon as I could, I shot my shotgun. Just to, I knew that. I could do it but I just I had to confirm it as fast as possible.

DEALING WITH THE MEDIA

My friends and I were in the first group that got shot, so we didn’t really know what was going on and I had no idea how big of a story it was. So that just kind of surprised me that so many people wanted my story or you know asked me questions... so I didn't really have a problem with it. I felt like I was helping.

I’ve had good and bad experiences with the media, and the bad ones just seemed to be more and more often. Where they would say it would be a 30 minute interview, an hour interview, then it would last three or four hours, and they’d cut it all down to 30 seconds of me talking and spin my words. And that really showed me as a kid what people are really like, that everybody’s out for themselves, for their own gain. That was a hard lesson to learn at 15, 16. Just seeing how adults could take advantage of you.

I wish that I had, if you know, my dad or somebody would step in and kind of protect me a little bit. Say, ‘No, he's not doing this.’ It just feels like that never happened and I always said yes.

I didn’t really have a problem with it, I felt like I was helping. But for the other people in other school shootings, I would hope that the media would have a little bit more respect, I guess, because they're… especially if it's right at the event, these people are so emotional and it’s sad. I just wish that they would let them kind of cope and deal with their emotions, and then, if they wanted to do a television interview later that would be okay.

FAMILY STRUGGLES

Through a lot of different experiences through my childhood and the last 20 years, there’s been a lot of things that both of my parents have done that really hurt me. So it’s been recent that I cut everyone out of my life that isn’t positive. So I don’t really have a relationship with either one of my parents.

POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER

For most of the last 20 years I’ve felt mentally fine, physically fine, until about 2015.

At that time, I bought a different business and ran myself way too thin. Started drinking a lot. And I think with all the stress, with all the extra stress from trying to run the business and being a single father, it just kinda broke me. And I drank more and more and more.

Since then… I’ve been in treatment, I continue to go to therapy, to just try and figure out the PTSD and how to deal with different things.

I always kind of looked at PTSD as someone with like a weak mind, that couldn’t deal with whatever situation. I mean, I understand that people that are coming back from war have seen horrific things and been through horrific experiences and I kind of gave them a pass. But you know, for other people that were involved in Columbine that weren't shot, that some of them weren’t even there, for them to say that they had it, I just kind of called B.S.

But now seeing it in myself, I'm more sympathetic. I understand that it can happen to anybody, and it can be there in when you never really notice it. And looking back, I think that … the times where I was really anxious, even before 2015, I think that was part of it.

I never noticed it, and I figured that you know if you if you do have something like that, the symptoms are going to be immediate. You know, it's going to be right after the event. So I thought that since it had been over 10 years that it didn't affect me.

It’s been in the last two years that I really dove into the therapy part of it and accepting that it’s probably post-traumatic stress disorder.

Noticing my symptoms and being able to deal with them… that gives me hope for a brighter future.

Lance Kirklin was one of the first people wounded at Columbine High School. He was shot five times, including a shotgun blast to the face. He says he feels physically fine now and credits treatment for helping him deal with the emotional toll of the shooting.