By Erika Lovegreen
I was in an interview years ago and was asked about what makes me unique. I told the interviewer that I had a pretty incredible story. I grew up near Columbine High School, Hurricane Katrina destroyed my community a few years later, and I was on campus going into the building next door to the Virginia Tech shootings.
The interviewer looked and me and nervously laughed. He called me “Forest Gump” for being in so close to so many historical events. I could tell he didn’t believe me.
The truth. It did happen.
I was in 6th grade. All our classes were combined that day. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Another teacher from another grade ran in and grabbed one of my teachers. They disappeared into the hall. It seemed rushed.
Next thing we knew, my teacher ran back in, whispered to our other teachers. They locked the door and turned off the lights. We sat there watching our teachers panicked trying to continue the lesson with little to no explanation. A message came over the loud speaker about an hour later that said “all clear.” We were dismissed into the arms of our crying parents.
My mom told my brother and I what happened. We cried. We visited the crosses. We were exposed to the harsh realities of a school shooting at a young age.
A few years later my dad’s job brought us from Colorado to Biloxi, Mississippi. I fell deeply in love with the south. The people. The Gulf. The food.
The night before Hurricane Katrina hit there was a football game. People were talking about a storm but no one seemed concerned. Other hurricanes had brushed by us that year, with no issues.
My parents woke us up overnight the day before the storm to tell us we needed to board up the house as soon as possible. You could see the fear in their eyes. The storm had turned and was heading right at us… at this point a now Category 5 (the worst possible case scenario). We grabbed what we could… our life in a few boxes… piled into the car and hit the road to stay with family in Atlanta. What should have been a 5-6 hour drive took 23. Everyone along the coast, including New Orleans were under evacuation orders.
The storm hit and all we could do is watch the fear in Jim Cantore’s eyes during his live hits on the Weather Channel. We knew it was bad.
When we got back, we learned we were the lucky ones. We had damage, but nothing compared to others. Houses were pulled completely off foundations, red X’s marked places where rescuers found dead bodies, and a smell of mold so strong it made you cough. This was a very dark moment in my life. I was heartbroken for my community and felt an immense amount of guilt that we survived.
The Virginia Tech Massacre
After the hurricane, we moved in with family in Virginia. I picked up the pieces to finish up my senior year and the prospect of college helped me heal from the wounds of my past. Virginia Tech seemed like a perfect fit. The campus was big, the students seemed happy, and it looked like a castle.
April 16 felt like any other day. I was running a little behind to class. As I was walking up the steps to the building, I heard a popping sound. There was construction so at first, I did not think much of it. That is, until the popping sound continued. I looked at a student walking beside me. We then heard screaming coming from the building next door.
I glanced over only to see someone banging on a window, screaming. The shots continued. My body took over. I ran.
Other students were running too. We ran across our massive drill field, away from the sound of gun fire and screaming. Police were arriving, running the opposite way, yelling for us to keep our hands up.
When I got to the other side, I ran into my dorm (up four flights of stairs), and woke up my roommate. I tried to explain what was happening but didn’t know where to begin. Sirens began blaring on campus. We sat for the next few hours in complete fear.
Understanding why I was exposed to these historical events always baffled me. My “ah ha” moment came not long ago, years after all of it. I realized that I survived. I was on the fringes, so I could live to tell the story. I did not meet a tragic ending. This is why I was inspired to tell my unicorn story, and connect all the other unicorn stories out there.