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The day after Uvalde, a Columbine survivor hugged her children and sent them to school

"We were told this was never going to happen again — but it keeps happening."
/ Source: TODAY

The text messages started trickling in on Tuesday afternoon. “Are you OK?” “I love you.” “Do you need anything?” That’s how Missy Mendo knew there had been yet another school shooting.

“I thought, ‘Here we go again,’” Mendo, 38, told TODAY Parents

In April 1999, Mendo was a 14-year-old freshman at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, when two students opened fire, killing 13 people. There have been 14 mass shootings at U.S. schools since then, according to the Associated Press.

Missy Mendo's Columbine High School IDs.
Missy Mendo's Columbine High School IDs.Courtesy Missy Mendo

“I was sitting in math class when I heard loud noises. It sort of sounded like banging on lockers,” Mendo recalled. “Then I looked out the window and saw people running. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces.”

Fire alarms were sounded and Mendo fled the building with her classmates. 

“As we we were running, they started shooting at us from inside,” Mendo said.

Mendo was physically unharmed, but she said the near-miss experience left her with emotional scars and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"Many of us do," she said.

Columbine survivor Missy Mendo and her 4-year-old daughter, Ellie
Columbine survivor Missy Mendo and her 4-year-old daughter, EllieCourtesy Missy Mendo

In the fall, Mendo's 4-year-old daughter, Ellie, will start pre-K. But after Tuesday’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Mendo can’t bring herself to complete the paperwork. At least not this week.

“I need a minute to process everything. It’s like, when is this going to end? How is this continuing to happen?" Mendo said. “But I also want to be so cautious with my kiddo — my number one goal is that I don’t project my fears onto her. I want her to live her life to the fullest.” 

Ellie is unaware of what happened to her mom.

"She's too young to understand," Mendo said.

Salli Garrigan's junior class photo. She was wearing the same outfit on the day of the shooting in 1999.
Salli Garrigan's junior class photo. She was wearing the same outfit on the day of the shooting in 1999.Courtesy Salli Garrigan

Salli Garrigan, a fellow mom and Columbine survivor, understands what Mendo is going through. Garrigan was in choir class — her “happy, safe place” — when pandemonium erupted. At the time, she was a junior.

“Half of us hid and half of us ran. I was one that ran,” Garrigan, now 39, told TODAY. “Glass from the front doors of school shattered in front of us, and then a teacher waved us down another hall toward a route to safety. I was lucky. I got out pretty quickly.”

April 20, 2022, marked the 23rd anniversary of the Columbine massacre but more than two decades later, Garrigan said the memories feel fresh.

“Sometimes I’ll hear a sound and it brings me right back,” she said. 

Turning grief into action

Mendo, who still lives in Colorado, is director of community outreach at The Rebels Project, a support group for survivors of mass shootings.

It took Garrigan a little longer to find her voice. 

“I was like, I’m not gonna let [the shootings] define me,” Garrigan said. “And that’s how I felt until I had children. Then suddenly everything was different.”

Garrigan and her husband, Patrick, are parents of 7-year-old daughter, Dottie, and 3-year-old son, Hugh. 

“When I became a mom, I realized I had to start fighting,” Garrigan, who resides in New York, said. “I went into mama bear mode. [After Columbine], we were told this was never going to happen again — but it keeps happening."

Salli Garrigan posed with her husband, Patrick, and their kids, Dottie and Hugh.
Salli Garrigan posed with her husband, Patrick, and their kids, Dottie and Hugh.Courtesy Salli Garrigan

Today Garrigan is an active member of Moms Demand Action, which was founded after Sandy Hook, and the Everytown Survivor Network, a community of survivors working together to end gun violence.

Garrigan, like Mendo, suffers from PTSD. She, too, is careful not to project onto her children. On Wednesday morning, hours after the Texas shooting, Dottie and Hugh both went off to school. Garrigan never considered keeping them home. 

“I just never want these tragedies to win,” Garrigan said. “As hard as it is, when this keeps happening, we just have to keep pushing forward. You give them a long, weird lingering hug and then you let go.”

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