Nearly 20 years after her death, the first victim of the Columbine High School shooting is inspiring students to be kind.
Rachel Joy Scott, 17, was the first to die in the massacre on April 20, 1999. Her uncle Larry Scott is one of 38 speakers who travels the country telling the story of her life in the hopes it will promote kindness and prevent violence. This week, Scott presented “Rachel’s Challenge” to Gettysburg Area School District.
Two teenage gunmen killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine in Colorado. Rachel was eating lunch on the grass outside the cafeteria with a friend when the shooters approached the school. She took four bullets.
“That’s a day I’ll never forget as long as I live,” Scott said.
Two of his children, in addition to Rachel and her brother Craig, also attended Columbine. Rachel was the only one who didn’t come home.
Scott spoke to a crowd including dozens of parents and young people Wednesday evening at Gettysburg Area High School, after presenting to middle and high school students earlier that week.
Shortly after Rachel died, her father Darrell, Larry’s brother, found an essay she wrote titled, “My Ethics, My Codes of Life.” This essay, Rachel’s diaries, and stories told by her classmates demonstrate the teen’s commitment to kindness, Scott said.
Taking the lessons he learned from his niece, Scott encouraged the audience to look for the best in others, dream big, choose positive influences, speak with kindness, and start your own chain reaction.
One of the role models Rachel looked up to was Anne Frank, Scott said. Both girls died from Adolf Hitler’s influence, he said. The two shooters admired Hitler and purposely chose his birthday as the day of the shooting, according to Scott.
“Both of these girls believed in destiny,” Scott said.
Like Anne’s diary, the words Rachel wrote live on.
“I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go,” Rachel wrote in her essay.
Before her death, Rachel stood between a boy and the bullies who teased him for having special needs, Scott said. The boy later told Rachel’s family he had planned to kill himself, but changed his mind after Rachel stood up for him.
Rachel also made a point of befriending new students. She sat with a girl who was all alone at lunch on her first day of school, according to Scott.
Speaking to the parents in the auditorium, Scott encouraged them to help their children dream big.
“Today, young people are not believing in themselves a lot,” he said.
Since Columbine, 120,000 American teens have committed suicide and 141 students have died in school shootings, according to Scott.
Audience members wiped tears from their eyes as Scott spoke.
“Our words can slice people in half,” Scott said. “Or they can heal.”
Gettysburg Area High School Principal Jeremy Lusk was amazed by the reaction students had to Scott’s presentation. He spoke to high school students Tuesday and middle schoolers on Wednesday.
Without prompt, students stood and applauded Scott at the end of his speech, Lusk recalled.
“It was amazing to see the kids who stood first,” Lusk said.
Students signed banners promising to take Rachel’s Challenge and started Friends of Rachel clubs, Scott said.
He describes Rachel’s Challenge not as an anti-bullying program, but as a “pro-kindness” movement.
“Let’s leave a legacy of kindness behind,” Scott said, “Like Rachel did.”