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'It's the world we live in': KC community reflects on area school shootings 25 years after Columbine

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Posted at 11:28 AM, Apr 21, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — April 20, 2024, marks 25 years since the Columbine High School massacre, which is known for being one of the first mass school shootings to result in drastic security measures like security guards and metal detectors.

Since Columbine, there have been over 2,000 school shootings in the United States, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database’s definition of a school shooting, which “includes any incident when a gun has been brandished, fired or when a bullet has hit school property, regardless of the number of victims, time, day or reason.”

Shootings at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, have made national headlines in the quarter-century since Columbine.

In the Kansas City area, the most recent incident occurred in March 2024 when someone opened fire on school property at North Kansas City High School after a Saturday evening basketball game and debate tournament.

The most recent event in the area to have taken place during school hours on school property was in March 2022 when an Olathe East High School student opened fire and injured a school resource officer and assistant principal.

Mother Lynelle Lankford said her daughter was a sophomore at Olathe East at the time of the shooting.

“Every day that we send our kids to school, we know that something could happen," Lankford said. "And there is as parents, for us, this piece of us every day that acknowledges that this is real, this is the world we live in. It could happen. So when it did, it was shocking, but it also wasn't shocking.”

She said the event was extremely jarring for her and her two daughters, one of whom was in fifth grade in March 2022.

“Returning to school for the next two years has not been easy,” Lankford said. “They have expressed to us that there’s always this underlying worry or fear that that could happen to them.”

When Lankford reflected on her high school days, she said it felt like a different world. That was until her senior year when Columbine happened.

“It rocked our world as high school students,” Lankford said. “It was very scary. I remember going to school the next day, everyone talking about it, being horrified.”

She never expected her daughters would be living with the same fear she did when she was their age — or that it would hit so close to home.

“It caused trauma,” Lankford said.

But, sadly, that trauma is not unique to young people nationwide, especially in Kansas City.

“It's disappointing that this is still a discussion that we're having in 2024,” said Rachel Gonzalez, a gun violence prevention advocate working for Brady: United Against Gun Violence, which is a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun violence prevention and safe storage.

Before she began her advocacy work on a national scale, she led Kansas City’s March for Our Lives chapter. The group's March 2018 rally at Theis Park had over 6,000 attendees.

“I feel like a lot of people come out right after a shooting, and they don't talk about it anymore,” Gonzalez said.

Not Vaughn Baker, though.

He told KSHB 41 reporter Rachel Henderson he thinks about mass shootings 24/7 due to his role as president and CEO at Strategos, an organization that provides security-related training for public spaces.

Baker co-founded the company three years after Columbine. And since 2022, Strategos has grown to serve clients internationally.

“Some of the students that were at Columbine are now in their 40s, so sometimes people don’t realize how long it’s been, but we still have seen these sorts of incidents increase in frequency,” Baker said.

Baker also said it’s better to be safe than sorry, which is why he encourages entities to take safety precautions instead of avoiding them.

“It’s not likely to occur, mathematically, but we don’t prepare because it’s likely to occur for any crisis, we prepare because the consequences of not preparing are too great,” Baker said. “Preparedness affects morale, whether you’re not prepared or you are prepared.”

He noted there’s a gap in analyzing student behavior that could be improved when it comes to providing safer school spaces.

“We've prevented the outside threat by making the schools tougher to get into, but many times, the attacker already has access to the school as a student, so we gotta think about that, too,” Baker said.

But Lankford said there’s a feeling of helplessness that no amount of security can ever fix.

“It's such a systemic issue, like there's no easy solution. It's just the world we live in,” she said. “There’s a lot of feelings wrapped up in that acceptance. ... It's not just mass shootings, there's children dying in Kansas City, Missouri, all the time from gun violence. So, these are conversations that we need to be having to bring more awareness, compassion to stories of people who have been affected by it.”