They're too little, too young to have to deal with these kinds of emotions, deal with this fear. —Amber Wright
AMERICAN FORK — Every time Amber Wright hears about another school shooting, her heart breaks.
Wright is a survivor of the Columbine High School shooting 14 years ago. She was in the library when the shooting began.
She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and her journey of emotional recovery has been long. She doesn’t have advice for those affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. — she just wants to give them hope.
Twenty students and six adults were shot and killed in Newtown on Dec. 14. For the families, there’s a long recovery ahead.
“They’re too little, too young to have to deal with these kinds of emotions, deal with this fear,” Wright said.
It took her four years, three therapists, one medical doctor and two sleep specialists to finally function with some degree of normality, she said.
When she struggled to recover from the shooting at Columbine High School, cards from strangers gave her hope. Many were messages from children. She would read them over and over.
Wright remembers what a Holocaust survivor shared with her and other Columbine survivors after that shooting. “She said that if you don't do anything, the pain is wasted.”
That thought stuck with her as she waited for the right time to act. When she saw news reports of other mass shootings over the years, she did not feel as though she could do anything. This time, however, she decided that she could. She wanted to give people in Connecticut messages of hope. She taught fourth-graders for five years before leaving to raise a family and knows how traumatic events can leave young students feeling vulnerable.
The cards gave her the idea to create a picture book. That way if someone doesn’t feel like talking, they have a book to look at to bring comfort, she said.
"After a while the hurt goes away, and you don't have to think about it anymore," she wrote in her book. “It gets better.”
She's self-publishing the book with the help of fellow Columbine survivor Liz Carlston with photographs by Sarah Wood. The book addresses symptoms of PTSD in children’s terms and shows how things get better. She plans to give copies of her book to the survivors in Connecticut.
The book's messages include, “Just remember, there are many happy days ahead,” and “This takes time, but you will get better.”
Wright also wants them to know: "You will start to feel stronger than you were before, and you will discover new amazing things about yourself.”
At first, she did not think that was possible. She feared she had no future and worried about her safety. She understands what the emotions that came up after a mass shooting.
"Don't give up,” she said. “There were a lot of times I felt like my life was over."
She said she doesn’t know if she will ever fully recover, because the event is just part of her now. She believes she will always feel some sadness for what happened that day in 1999.
She wants to raise $5,000 to get her book published and sent to the Newtown community. She is conducting her fundraising effort through gofundme.com. As of Friday, she had raised nearly $2,000 on her fundraising page. Any extra money raised will go to the survivor fund.
She is also holding a Sandy Hook Fundraiser at Highland Gardens, 9736 N. 4800 West in Highland, on Feb. 28 beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc
E-mail: [email protected]