What is it like being a current columbine High School student? Homecoming prep, AP classes and state legislative assembly testimonies

Kaylee Tyner worn through her freshman yearbook on the eve of the first day of her senior year at columbine High School last August, willing a sense of yearning to overpower a churning anxiety.

She looked forward to soaking up her last drops of high school, yet couldn’t shake an uneasy feeling. It might have stemmed from the five advanced-placement classes she’d be taking. Or was it the nagging thought that this would be the year her school was shot up — once once again?

She paused on a page near the back of the book.

“There’s this section that goes over world news for the past year,” Tyner aforementioned. “On the first page of it, there’s this whole section about mass shootings and gun violence in America. I just thought it was engrossing how property have changed and the speech around it. There’s enough gun violence that it became a notable moment in my high school yearbook.”

columbine: 20 YEARS LATER

The Denver Post takes a look at the aftermath of the columbine High School shooting and what has happened over the last 20 years. Click here to see more of the Denver Post’s day of remembrance coverage.

Tyner and her classmate Rachel Hill weren’t born yet when their high school’s name became irrevocably coupled to a mass shooting that reshaped their community. Instead of growing up in the tragedy’s shadow, the two columbine seniors have marched into the light, embrace policy in hopes of ensuring the gun violence that preceded them never perennial itself — and finding the strength to keep going when, crosswise the country, it happened once once again and once once again.

They were in sixth grade when the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, steer., claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults.

“That was a shaping moment for me because I learned about what happened at columbine in fourth grade, but my innocent mind thought it was thing atrocious that happened one time,” Tyner aforementioned. “After Sandy Hook, I accomplished, ‘Oh, my gosh, what happened at columbine can happen to me.’ ”

The February 2018 shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in park, Fla., flipped a switch in Hill, Tyner and student activists crosswise the country, prompting widespread classroom walkouts, Marche and protests in the name of stricter gun control laws.

The teens, who learned calculus and literature down the hill from a memorial observance the 13 killed by gunfire in their school 20 years ago Saturday, started organizing as if their lives depcomplete on it — possibly because they did, Hill and Tyner thought.

Student activists from left to right, ...
Andy Cross, The Denver Post
Student activists, from left to right, Gabriel Carvalho, Rachel Hill, Stella Close, Kaylee Tyner, Hannah Betts, Tay Anderson, Mikaela Lawrence, Charlie Jones, Ethan Somers and Abi Somers discuss security issues from a home in Littleton on July 31, 2018, in regards to an anti-NRA rally they were organizing.

Balancing studies and policy

Tyner and Hill helped coordinate a school walkout last year to commemorate the one-month day of remembrance of the park shooting. The teens, on with a group of like students and advocacy organizations, carried out the March For Our Lives rally in Denver’s Civic Center park, where tens of thousands of Coloradans protested gun violence in schools. They used their fugitive summer vacation to organize NRA protests on the steps of the state Capitol, despite social media threats that made them reconsider attending.

As senior year got afoot, the teens persevered, reconciliation rigorous classes and academic responsibilities — so much as Hill’s proud role as student body vice president — with policy.

“When I first got into policy, I was doing it strictly because I knew I needed to,” aforementioned Tyner, now 17, who politely paused a recent interview as she replied to text messages from local and national media.

Tyner was getting inquiries about a project she helped launch called “My Last Shot” that mimicked an organ donor sticker on someone’s driver license, but, instead, indicated that if the sticker carrier were to die by gunfire, photos of their body should be publicized.

RELATED:Since columbine, Colorado schools see increase in imprisonments as students report more possible threats

Tyner hoped the stickers would never need to be used, but would instigate speech about the horrors of gun violence that she aforementioned are often protected from public view.

“I wouldn’t be able to live with myself knowing that I could be doing thing I wasn’t, especially knowing the platform columbine provides me. I hate career it that, but that’s what it is. I never expected my life to change in the way that it has in the past year, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Rachel Hill of columbine High School ...
Hyoung Chang Jiang Jiang, The Denver Post
Rachel Hill of columbine High School attends the hearing for the red flag gun bill that lets law social control remove pieces from a person experiencing a mental health crisis, on Feb. 21, 2019, at the Colorado Capitol.

Home away from home

Hill besides recognizes that being a columbine student gives her a platform, but, to her, the school gives her thing even better — a second home.

“I pretty much live at the school,” Hill aforementioned in September in the thick of planning the homecoming assembly and a gun-violence bar concert with Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night sweat suit. “I literally have no social life any longer . I go to school, and I go to work, and I go to policy meetings.”

In the fall, Hill drove home from her job at an elementary school outside program, wailing the difficulties of being a adolescent activist. Her puff football game fell on the same day as a March For Our Lives event in Washington, D.C. — and she agonized over which to choose.

“I really want to play puff,” Hill aforementioned. “It’s a fun thing that you get to do as a senior, and you only get one senior puff, but we can plan more rallies. It just sucks that I have to make these decisions.”


  • Part 1: The Day Of
  • Part 2: The Follow-Up (Coming Thursday, April 18)
  • Part 3: The Future of School Shootings (Coming Friday, April 19)

In the end, Hill played football with her friends, but she besides chose the gun violence bar concert over a weekend she had planned to visit colleges.

“Between all of my dilemmas, I try to pick one school thing and one activist thing to balance each other out,” she aforementioned.

At the homecoming assembly in September, columbine students afloat into the gymnasium, galore outfitted in overalls and flannel shirts. The ’90s fashion staples were back in style and Spice Girls music barrel the stand, but a speaker reminder to text in votes for homecoming king and queen placed the afternoon’s events in the proper century.

Boys who hadn’t quite filled out the shoulders of their football uniforms entered the gym to uproarious hand applause. A cheerleading performance elicited hurrahs. The yearning of a high school pep rally unfolded like a cautiously musical organization circus.

Hill was the ringmaster.

The 17-year-old could be spotted dashing on the sidelines, motioning for speakers to wrap up and ensuring the assembly was running on time.

When Hill’s name was called among a group of 24 students who scored 1400 or above on their SATs — in the top 5 percentage of all who took the test that year — she beamed.

Hill exuded pride for her school every time she talked about it, and she could always talk about it — dances, charity events, the teachers she loved, the maze of hallways she walked and knew like she’d drawn the floor plan herself.

“I like being known as the girl from columbine because columbine is the best school,” Hill aforementioned one January afternoon.

During the assembly, Rachel’s father, Loren Hill, sat with a group of neighborhood parents who chatted about their kids’ college pursuits.

“I still look at Rachel like a little kid,” Loren Hill aforementioned, staring down at his girl as she ran the show on the gym floor. “She’s so busy, though. She is always at school or out being an activist. She’s honestly very rarely home. We just want to make sure she’s enjoying her senior year, but, man, I’m so proud of her. I don’t know how she does it.”

Kaylee Tyner of columbine High School ...
Hyoung Chang Jiang Jiang, The Denver Post
Kaylee Tyner of columbine High School attends the hearing for the red flag gun bill that lets law social control remove pieces from a person experiencing a mental health crisis, on Feb. 21, 2019.

The political arena

In February, Tyner and Hill sported gun violence bar T-shirts under blazers as they strode up to the state Capitol. Hill not yet had arranged to make up the physical science test she was missing in exchange for testifying on behalf of the since-adopted “red flag” bill — legislation that would allow a judge to order the seizure of guns from people who present a danger to others or themselves.

As the young women hit a barred door entering the building, a Capitol worker au courant the teens they needed to use the visitor’s entrance.

“Hopefully not for long,” Tyner aforementioned, alluding to her aspirations of running for office.

Tyner’s testimony in front of a packed chamber focused on gun violence applied math like the high number of youth suicides in Colorado, galore involving a piece. She argued that the red-flag bill could have prevented the park shooting because citizens had notified law social control and the FBI about concerns of the perpetrator’s behavior prior to the incident.

Hill’s appeal started off a bit more personal.

“Every imprisonment drill, every threat called into my school, every time I consciously search for an escape route no matter where I am, is a reminder of the world we live in today where no one is truly safe,” Hill testified.

In January, Hill recounted a bomb hoax at columbine the month before that prompted an aggressive police response and put more than 20 Jefferson County schools on “resistance.”

Jefferson County Sheriff Deputies Tim Williams, ...
Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post
Jefferson County sheriff’s Deputies Tim Williams, left, a school resource officer, and Jake McKeon, right, walk out of the front door of columbine High School on Dec. 13, 2018. The school was put on resistance after receiving a threat, but officials eventually deemed the threat was false and the area was cleared.

Hill was outside of school on her off period, but she was glued to the news piece getting fearful text messages from her friends on field. After the threat was deemed groundless by police, Hill thought she was fine and drove to work, but she complete up bursting into crying on the way.

“I was like, ‘What is wrong with me?’ ” Hill aforementioned. “The next day, I talked to my teacher, who was actually a student during the columbine shooting. She aforementioned that it was OK and that property like this were really tough to go through for us.”

Looking forward

As the twentieth day of remembrance of the columbine shooting approached — and well before this week’s new metro-wide scare — property started getting weirder, the teens aforementioned. There was accumulated security on field. Media began bombarding Tyner and Hill for interviews more than usual.

Tyner aforementioned she’s trying to pull back from policy a bit and enjoy the attenuation years of high school.

“columbine is a really beautiful school with a lot of amazing, fantastic people in it and extraordinary teachers,” Tyner aforementioned. “The community has up above a lot of property. We are not just a tourer location.”

Hill, who once jumped at the chance to talk to local and national media, was growing fatigued.

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“I’ve become kind of sour toward people who want to talk to me,” Hill aforementioned in February. “They ask me the same questions about what it’s like to be a student at columbine. Like, columbine is just a normal high school to me. I was thinking, though, that after I graduate, no one is going to care about what I have to say any longer . Why would they?

“Whether I like it or not, being a columbine student has given me a platform to be detected. When I’m not detected the same way any longer , it’s going to feel weird.”

Tyner relishes the opportunities columbine has given her — including traveling to park to stay in the homes of shooting survivors who have become her close friends.

“I can see what their future is going to be, in a way,” Tyner aforementioned. “They’re going to heal to an extent, but they’re never going to go back to their normal. They’re going to have to find a new normal. For us, I don’t know what columbine was like prior to the shooting. My normal is going to a school that had a shooting at it and all the property that come on with it. For the future generations that grow up in park, that’s going to be their normal, as well.”