Central Texas teacher, Columbine survivor: "I want to live with my wound"

Central Texas teacher, Columbine survivor: less accessibility to weapons, more mental health funding
Central Texas teacher, Columbine survivor: less accessibility to weapons, more mental health funding
Posted at 11:14 AM, Mar 22, 2018
and last updated 2019-04-19 15:58:05-04

Michelle Porter says time heals wounds, even the emotional ones she suffered as a survivor of the Columbine High School shooting that killed 12 students and a teacher in April of 1999. 

She said there are still hard days, but they're something she's accepted in the nearly 20 years since the massacre in Colorado.

"I want to live with my wound, and to remember the things that are traumatic because that shapes how I feel about the people in my life now, and how I react to them," Porter said.

Porter is currently a bilingual kindergarten teacher at McGregor Primary School. It's a position she's been in since 2016.

She also taught Spanish at McGregor High School from 2010 through 2012, and then stepped away from the district until she started her current position two school years ago.

On April 20, 1999, she was Michelle Markert, a senior at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. She was completing her final semester of high school when the massacre happened.

"I was at lunch. There was a disturbance coming in from outside. I didn't know what was going on," she recalls. "Somebody was yelling. I thought maybe it was a fight. I remember thinking maybe it was bees."

Porter darted under a table, and she heard someone yell that there was a gun. Her immediate instinct was to run upstairs were most the classrooms were.

"A bunch of people went outside because there were doors right there," Porter said. "There was a shot that shot out the big light where we were running, and I just ran down the hall, and the first room I could get into was the science room."

A teacher died across the hall from the science room Porter was hiding in. She said they stayed in the science room for three hours until the SWAT team came and rescued them.  

She said life immediately became harder. 

"A light bulb blew out in our house that night, and I melted down. It was just a mess," Porter said. "We spent most every day just going to a local place that would let all the students come together. I slept on the floor of my parent's room with my sister for awhile, and slept in her room until I left home."

Porter said the funerals were emotionally exhausting. She would have to go to multiple funerals in one day - creating a schedule to make sure she didn't miss any.

Graduation, which is normally a really exciting part of life, was a rough transition. The next phase of life seemed daunting after all she had experienced at such a young age.

Time has made her tougher, and she no longer fearfully looks over her shoulder at every noise. 

"Not on a daily basis do I worry about my kids being in school anymore in that anything could happen to them anywhere, so I don't want to sit and think about too many hypotheticals because then I would always be anxious," she said.

Porter also stresses she's clear on her stances on surrounding issues, about teachers carrying guns, access to guns and mental health.

"I try to live a life of peace," she states. "I don't want to carry a weapon. so personally that's not something I would feel comfortable doing. As a student, right after the shooting at Columbine, the same conversation was had, and my friends and I laughed because teachers don't go into this to be a bodyguard or to have to kill another human being, or have the responsibility that they would have to shoot another human being." 

She also added that she hopes we address accessibility to weapons. 

"I would like to see less accessibility to the types of weapons that we have," she said. "I would love to have more funding for mental health or for it to be easier to get mental health through insurance, and for that to be a conversation that is more open and allows people to get help when it's needed." 

Her tragedy happened nearly 20 years ago, but for students who survived the school shooting in Parkland, FL, their journey is just beginning. "For 20 years, I've been grateful for people who don't know me but have expressed thankfulness when I've shared my story, and I hope that they feel they were able to hear something from me today, and I'm grateful that they were willing to listen," Porter said.