Rachel Scott was gunned down April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School, the first victim in America’s most infamous school shooting.
The details of her death were shared Monday with sixth-graders at Nord Middle School in an assembly that came just days after another mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon and exactly a week after a huge school shooting drill involving heavily armed officers at Steele High School.
Kids listened intently as Chris Mowery of the advocacy group Rachel’s Challenge spoke of what happened 16 years ago, when Eric Harris and Dylan Kiebold went on a rampage that stole 13 lives.
“Every single one of them mattered. They had beautiful lives,” said Mowery, naming each victim in turn.
In a video clip, students heard Rachel’s brother, Craig Scott, talk about hiding under a desk in the Columbine High library. He came within seconds of being killed as several of his friends were murdered.
“I heard them yelling at students and they were yelling to each other and shooting off their guns,” Craig recalled. He described how the killers singled out a black friend, yelling racial slurs at him before taking his life.
Mowery never knew Rachel. He was only 21 at the time of her death. But he was so moved by her story that he named his daughter Rachel Joy in her honor.
Today, Mowery tours the nation, telling students how Rachel – just days before she died – drafted an essay challenging others to be compassionate and start a chain reaction of kindness.
The number of people to hear Rachel’s story via Rachel’s Challenge speakers is expected to surpass 23 million this year.
Mowery told Nord students they can help spread Rachel’s message through their actions.
He asked them to make an effort to eliminate their prejudices against those who are different; to look for the best in people; to choose positive role models; to show love for others; and to refuse to limit their dreams.
“I want to challenge every one of you to speak with kindness and not with cruelty. The words you speak have the power to hurt but also to heal,” he said.
It was a challenge accepted with tears for many Nord kids who looked deep within and found room for change. In the lunch hour, many signed a banner pledging to live by the goals set forward by Rachel Scott.
Principal Bill Miller offered another challenge: “Make a difference here at Nord Middle School,” he said. “If you make one difference here, it could be a difference that affects the world.”
The Amherst middle school is home to the Friends of Rachel Club, which also spent time in the day learning more about bullying and other issues.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Chris Mowery, a presenter for Rachel’s Challenge, speaks Monday at Nord Middle School.
Courtesy photo Rachel Scott was the first person to be killed in the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. Her memory lives on today in an organization called Rachel’s Challenge.