In the car that morning, she floated the idea of skipping class. Didn’t breakfast sound better than showing up to French 15 minutes late? But attendance accounted for a lot of your grade, so Virginia Tech sophomore Kristina Anderson and her friend Colin Goddard slunk into the back corner of their Norris Hall classroom. It was April 16, 2007, and within a few minutes the shooter burst into the building and began a killing spree that would claim the lives of 32 people. He strode through Anderson’s own class three times, murdering 11 of her fellow students and their professor. On his third loop, the killer took his own life mere feet from Anderson, who, shot three times, lay motionless. When she recovered, the ongoing trauma spurred her to create the Koshka Foundation, devoted to school safety. Anderson, who now lives in Seattle, offers a window into the struggle faced by survivors of mass shootings, and the “terrible knowledge” that endures in their wake. —Jessica Voelker
I was born in Ukraine. In the early ’90s, we moved to Sacramento, California. I remember having a lot more earthquake drills. You get under the desk, and you don’t move until you are released to do so.
In our shooting, I stayed low and committed to pretending to be dead the whole time, which served me well.
The scariest moments, looking back, are those first few seconds where I sense something is threatening or escalating or getting closer, but I don’t know what it is.
Once he walked in, the world changed.
I just remember seeing his arms outstretched and a very calm but determined, unemotional face.
People often wonder, do they talk? Is there a moment to negotiate? But that’s not the time to do that.
He shot my back the first time. I describe it as a burning kind of numbness. I was shot twice more—once more in the back and once in my toe.
[Colin] was saying, “Don’t move, don’t move.” But I pushed myself off the desk and lay on the carpet. Somehow Colin’s hand and my hand found each other, and we just held hands waiting to be rescued.
When police break into an area, they call triage codes. Green is fine. Red is critical. Black means that you are deceased.
I remember hearing, “We have a lot of blacks in here.”
After the shooting I did cognitive processing therapy at UW. Almost every session was, “Tell me what happened.” Between reading police accounts and interviewing officers, I’ve been able to piece together what I think happened.
We call ourselves the club we don’t want to belong to. Frank DeAngelis, the [former] principal of Columbine High School, coined it.
How do you tell your employer about anniversaries, or the next time there’s another mass shooting that’s similar to yours and you are triggered?
A survivor from Columbine lives here in Seattle. We were talking about some projects that I want to do, and I said, “Isn’t it weird to be wanting to do this?” And he’s like, “You were involved in a school shooting. Everything from now on is weird.”
If people were empathetic and took the time to get to know someone’s experience, ask questions, and not be reactive, [survivors] wouldn’t need each other as much.
Safety is not a state of being. It’s a collection of actions everyone takes part in. We need to shy away from using words like “This is a safe university, city, or town.”
In public presentations, I don’t talk about the worst parts of being a survivor. It’s trying to show that you can find positive lessons in terrible events. But there are moments where I’m crying, learning about other mass shootings, or I have to stop the day because something happened and I need to process it.
I met a psychologist who referred to it as “terrible knowledge.” Once you experience something really painful, it’s an innate human need to want to share that with others so they don’t have to go through it.
He did have control over who survived and who didn’t. By confronting terrorism or active shooters, you’re also confronting that you can’t control everything in life.
I don’t want people to forget that 32 people were lost.