My name is Makai Hall, and I was in the Columbine High School library on April 20, 1999. I was injured in the shooting by a shotgun blast that punctured my lower right leg and some shotgun pellets entered my chest and face.
The gunfire was just so loud. And I didn’t get much time to think about it because one of the first couple shots that they took were at our table, and so that first volley hit my right leg and the side of my face and my chest, and so I immediately was just in abject pain, and the only thing I think I could sense was, ‘I’m going to die. They’re going to come up and shoot me in the head.’ And so I laid there for a little bit, and you know just hoping that they wouldn’t come near.
I can remember Patrick trying to administer the first aid on my leg, and in doing that he raised up a little bit, and I witnessed him being shot in the head. After that, I just think I tried to play dead.
The early years
I think after the school shooting, I got into this cycle where it was like it was on repeat and all I could think about was how bad it was for me, and how horrifying it was.
For the first couple of years after the shooting, the images of the shooting were pretty clear, and the violence of it, seeing people maimed and hurt and dead.
Those things… it kind of took awhile for them to leave. And then after that it - you know, it kind of became this thing where, I don’t want to say like something that offends people, but for me it was like a selfish thing, it was like, this happened to me, so I deserve this, you know what I mean?
And I know that’s not everybody’s circumstance. I think for me, it was true that I couldn’t get over the fact that I had gone through something and I felt like the world owed me something I think for a long time I tried to play that off like it wasn’t that big of a deal. I didn’t speak much about it, but you know it had a big effect. I was young. I was a boy. And so that made a big impression and it created a lot of fear, which I kind of had to work through.
I think the last time I had a really bad episode like that was after Sandy Hook and it was, those thoughts all come back like, ‘Why do these things still happen? What causes them? Like, we have to fix this.’
I feel like it set me back five to 10 years in how a typical young man would develop. I was very depressed. Very angry. And not quite able to, I think, achieve the goals that I really would have liked to maybe sooner.
Struggles with alcoholism
I think even before everything happened, I may have been heading down the road of alcoholism, is specifically what I’ve struggled with.
I can remember being young and going to high school parties before the shooting, and not really being able to control the amount of alcohol I ingested. And so after that happened, I had this great excuse to kind of go wild. And I found that it temporarily fixed things, like it killed the fear, it made me feel safe, and I kinda ran with that to the point where I got sick. My mom called me up one day, and I had woken up out of a blackout. She was like, ‘You’re going to rehab.’ And I was like, ‘Don’t do that, don’t send me to rehab,’ and I looked through the phonebook for a chapter of AA and started attending 12-step meetings.
And that, to be honest with you, really helped me to think about things like fear. That recovery process, staying sober, the alcohol, really didn’t help at all. If I was to say that anything stunted my development, it probably was alcohol.
Becoming a nurse
I remember I think after the Columbine thing, visiting the hospital a lot and going to see people that I knew, and obviously being at the hospital for a little bit. And I remember admiring the health care personnel, providers, and I always thought that was something that you know I could possibly do.
In starting to work in the capacity of a CNA or a nurse, my train of thinking was always focused on other people and that in a way relieved some of that suffering.
There’s the part that I feel I am able to comfort somebody, but I also have to have been able to be comforted by being able to serve in that capacity.
Unfortunately violence happens in many people’s lives and it’s an unfortunate thing. But part of the comfort that I draw from it, and part of the comfort that I think some of the patients that I’ve had have experienced, is that there’s a common thread. To say something simple about it would be to say that I can listen to what your story is.
Becoming a father
I have three kiddos: Grace, Miley and Clara. I’m married. That’s important.
I don’t want to transmit my fear onto them. I wish they could live like I did before Columbine where, yeah, school is a safe place to go, and there’s no need to have a crippling fear about going out and living your life.
I have gotten out of that cycle putting things on repeat in my brain, and I’ve got this family thing going on that I put my energy into. And it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done. Instead of putting the trauma on repeat, I more think about, ‘Alright, well, what kind of experience is my kiddo having? How can I improve that? How can I stimulate them to think about this? Or how can I encourage them to learn about this?’
If you find yourself after an experience like this, or having experienced violence, in a bad place…. it’s not hopeless. There is a way to kind of come back to the light. If anything, you can find some meaning in tragedy.
Makai Hall was in the library at Columbine High School when the shooters fired upon dozens of students. A shotgun blast struck his leg. He said his career path was influenced by the traumatic experience.