High school shooting survivors find strength in each other

MCCRACKEN COUNTY, KY — On Friday morning, our community will gather in silence to remember the three teens who died when a student opened fire on a prayer group at Heath High School 20 years ago.

We’ve seen the pictures. We’ve heard the stories. Yet, most of us will never know what it was like to be inside the school that day.

Survivors are now finding strength through The Rebels Project. It’s a support group for survivors of mass trauma, such as a school shooting. Students from Columbine started the group back in 2012 after the Aurora Theatre shooting. The group is based in Colorado, but it has a huge online presence as a place where survivors can share their stories.

Missy Mendo was a freshman at Columbine High School when two students went on a shooting rampage.

“We heard rumbling, and you look out the window. And it was kids running from the school, and you could see their faces,” says Mendo.

Mendo’s math class escaped to the park across the street only to become moving targets. Amy Over, a senior at Columbine, was still in the school hiding in the cafeteria.

“They came in, shooting in a different entrance. And I ran out, and we were getting shot at as we were running out,” says Over.

The feeling of being an outsider was one of the reasons why Mendo and Over helped start the Rebels Project. It’s also how they met Brittney Thomas, a survivor of the Heath High School shooting.

It was Dec. 1, 1997. Thomas was a freshman at Heath. She was standing next to other students in prayer group when the shooting started.

“As soon as we said ‘amen,’ I took a few steps to my left and heard a loud noise, and it was actually the shooter,” says Thomas.

It was a memory that haunted Thomas for many years. Then, three years ago, she found people she could relate to.

“I found my normal again when I was able to get in contact with The Rebels Project,” says Thomas. “We’re all trying to get to the same place. It’s nice to have somebody just come along, and grab your hand, and say, ‘Let’s go together.””

“A hug from somebody who’s been through it is different than a hug from somebody consoling you,” says Mendo.

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