Columbine survivor, loved ones of gun violence victims react to Texas school shooting

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- From recalling the Columbine shooting in 1999, to reliving it again, this time in an elementary school student's shoes, Kacey Johnson's heart was heavy.

"There's this added heartbreak from me about the journey that these people are starting," Johnson said. "This really long, hard, ruthless journey toward healing that's going to be really tough."

Johnson was a junior at Columbine High School in 1999. She thought she was young at 17 to have to go through the trauma after being shot at close range in the shoulder, hand and neck.

"I pretended to be dead, hoping he'd move on, and he did," Johnson told WGHP in 2018.

But while it took years for Johnson to let go of her fear, she empathized with the hundreds of students in grades K-12 at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, who survived.

"It's so hard to process something like this," Johnson said. "I mean, I thought I was a baby going through it at 17, and these kids, a lot of them are ten years younger than that."

For loved ones of school shooting victims, the pain is known all too well.

Some Parkland parents calling for more to be done.

In Asheville, Kevin Westmoreland said the past two weeks have been terrible in regards to gun violence.

His daughter, Lauren Westmoreland, was the longtime girlfriend of Riley Howell, a 21-year-old who died protecting other students from a shooter who stormed into a building on UNC Charlotte's campus in 2019.

"It's for lack of a better word, it's very triggering for our family, our family, Riley Howell's family, my daughter, my wife, because it takes you back to the day that Riley was murdered," Westmoreland said.

Westmoreland thought of the students knowing how that "one day" for the Uvalde community will be remembered.

"I'm not sure how they'll understand it," Westmoreland said. "Even as adults and young adults with my daughter and Riley's siblings, there are really, there are very dark days. There are days where you still can't believe it. And with children, my hope would be that they are able to mend maybe almost easier than an adult."

However long it takes, Johnson said it's important to acknowledge there won't be a "back to normal," for grieving families.

"They can't go back to that normal," Johnson said. "Their life has changed and they're being thrown into a new normal that they don't know how to live."
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