Past school shooting survivors to send notebooks, letters of com - WSMV News 4

Past school shooting survivors to send notebooks, letters of compassion to Marshall Co. High School

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(Photo by Forrest Sanders/WSMV) (Photo by Forrest Sanders/WSMV)

"They are not alone." That's the message one woman's sharing. She says there are people across the country connected through the same traumatic situation, surviving a deadly school shooting. 

Now, an effort uniting those survivors is looking to help the young people in Marshall County, Kentucky heal more quickly than they did.

Writing in a notebook at a Paducah, Kentucky law office, paralegal Christina Ellegood is usually taking notes during client meetings and jotting down case facts. On Sunday, her pen was writing a message to someone she's never met that couldn't be more personal.

On December 1, 1997, sophomore Christina and freshman little sister Nicole got on the bus and headed to Heath High School, located on a quiet Kentucky road in West Paducah.

"Someone just real calmly comes up the stairs and says, 'someone has a gun,'" Christina remembered.  

"I walked into the lobby, and I think initially what I was seeing with the bodies everywhere and people just frantically running around, I pretty much just shut off," Ellegood said. 

"I walked straight up to my sister and saw her laying there," she remembered. "Y'know, there wasn't anything anyone could do. My body didn't know how to process what I was seeing or things going on around me. One of my friends walked up and put her arms around me and kept saying, 'Everything's going to be okay. It's going to be okay.' I remember thinking to myself, 'Why am I not crying?' I remember not having any emotions or feelings."

Nicole, just 14-years-old, was one of the three killed when a student opened fire inside Heath.

In the 20 years since Christina helped get a memorial placed across from the school. The difficulties in getting information at the time of the shooting led her to become a paralegal.

"We were never encouraged to talk about what we went through on the day of the shooting," said Christina. "We were never encouraged to write down things we were feeling. We thought we were supposed to just bottle everything up. We were told we needed to forgive and move on pretty much."

"What I wanted so badly after our shooting was to talk to someone who'd gone through what I was going through," Christina recalled. "At the time, I kept being told by counselors 'There's no one who knows what you've been going through. There's no one you can relate to. There's no one you can talk to.' At the time, there really wasn't anyone who understood what I was going through."

When two students were killed in a shooting inside the nearby Marshall County High in January, Christina knew there was something she could do. It'd start with notebooks.

Christina reached out and other survivors from her school in Kentucky, as well as who survived similar incidents at Columbine High Shcool in Jefferson County, Colorado, and the University of California at Santa Barbara; and together they are writing notes to the survivors at Marshall County High. 

She's placing the notes in notebooks she's accepted as donations. The other pages of the notebook are left empty so that the person who received the notebook can take up a pen and write down how they feel now right now.

"My goal is to encourage students and faculty members to start journaling now versus waiting [for] 15 -- 16 years to do something like that," said Christina. "We want them to understand how important that is, and start the healing process faster than I did, faster than some of my friends did."

"Dear Marshall County High School student, my name is Christina Ellegood," she read from a draft of her note. "I am a Heath High School survivor. 

As you start to heal, which may take longer than you hope, life will get better. I want you to remember it's okay to be angry. It's okay to be sad. It's also okay to be happy and enjoy life and not feel guilty about that."

"20 years later, the community still supports the survivors from Heath," Christina said. "I want the students to know 20 years from now, we'll still be supporting them. I needed to reach out to Marshall County in any way I can. I can't take away the pain they're going through. I can't take away those memories they're dealing with or the changes in their lives. I can help them start to heal, encourage them to let them know the things they're feeling, the way they're acting, let them know that's normal. I want them to know I can help with that."

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