Columbine Survivor Reaches Out to Mother of Dylan Klebold
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead toward my freedom, I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” -Nelson Mandela
What do you do with bitterness?
How long do you allow the words, the actions, or the inactions of others to fester within you?
Our answers to these questions influence how we feel about our past, what we do with our present, and what becomes in our future. This past week, I heard the story of someone who has every reason to remain angry and bitter, but has chosen a different path. This is her story.
Imagine having the opportunity to communicate with the woman who raised the boy, who became the monster, who entered your high school, murdered 13 of your friends, wounded dozens of others and tore your community apart. What would you write her as you sat in the wheelchair you’re in as a result of her son’s actions?
Anne Marie Hochhalter has suffered from constant physical and emotional pain since the Columbine school shooting. After being shot by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, she lost her physical health and the life she envisioned.
Upon learning that Dylan’s mother was releasing a book detailing her side of the story, Anne Marie felt compelled to share all she’d lost and how she felt. Below is the open letter written by a young woman dramatically, traumatically and permanently impacted by the Columbine school shooting:
Dear Sue Klebold,
I was injured at Columbine High School in 1999. As you know, your son Dylan, and his classmate, Eric Harris, killed 13 people and then themselves. You are releasing a book called, “A Mother’s Reckoning” and are appearing tomorrow on the TV program 20/20 to talk about what happened and what your son did.
I have only two instances to form an opinion on you and they are as follows:
1. You and your husband wrote me a letter a few months after I was paralyzed saying how sorry you were. It was genuine and personal… To refresh your memory, your letter read like this:
Dear Anne Marie,
Our prayers have been with you each day as we read about the terrible ordeal you and your family have experienced. We read that you had been transferred to Craig Hospital, and we were so thankful that you had progressed to the point where you could enter a rehabilitation facility.
Though we have never met, our lives are forever linked through this tragedy that has brought unspeakable heartbreak to our families and our community. With deepest humility we apologize for the role our son, Dylan, had in causing the suffering you and your family have endured. Your recovery process will be a long and difficult road, and we hope that the support of people all over the world will help you find strength and courage as you meet the many challenges you have yet to face.
When we read reports of your progress, we marvel at your resolve. It is still terribly difficult for us to believe that the son we knew could play a role in causing harm to you and others. The reality that he shared in the responsibility for this senseless tragedy is beyond our comprehension. We offer our love, support, and service as you and your family work to gain control over your lives.
May God watch over you during your recovery process and beyond. May each day bring you successes, however small, that bring you hope and encouragement.
Sincerely, Sue and Tom Klebold
2. I was contacted by ABC to comment for the 20/20 special and they told me that any proceeds from your book (aside from publisher’s costs) will go to helping those with mental illness. Six months after Columbine happened, my mother, Carla, committed suicide. She was already suffering from depression so the shootings didn’t directly cause her to do what she did, but it certainly didn’t help. It means a lot to me that you wouldn’t keep those proceeds for yourself, but to help others that suffer from mental illness.
I think it’s appropriate that the program that you are appearing on is named “20/20.” Hindsight is truly 20/20 and I’m sure you have agonized over what you could have done differently. I know, because I do the same thing with trying to think of ways I could have prevented my mother’s death. I have no ill-will towards you. Just as I wouldn’t want to be judged by the sins of my family members, I hold you in that same regard. It’s been a rough road for me, with many medical issues because of my spinal cord injury and intense nerve pain, but I choose not to be bitter towards you. A good friend once told me, “Bitterness is like swallowing a poison pill and expecting the other person to die.” It only harms yourself.
I have forgiven you and only wish you the best.
Anne Marie Hochhalter
(I had the honor of learning about this story of forgiveness after visiting with Sue Klebold for my most recent Live Inspired podcast. With the tragic frequency of school shootings, and the national conversation around mental health, gun rights, and school violence, I wanted to spend time with an individual who became an unfortunate expert on these matters. In perhaps the most emotional, thought-provoking, and important conversation we’ve had on the Live Inspired podcast, Sue shares her stunning story. It’s one you need to hear. Please listen here and then share with your community.)
Learning to Forgive and Release Past Pain
My friends, it is unlikely any of us will ever encounter the mother of someone who calculatedly murdered our friends, robbed us of our physical health, and tore apart our community and family.
But every day we endure slights, prejudices, insults. Every day we are wrongly judged, treated harshly, damaged in ways both big and small. In our relationships at home, at work and in the marketplace of life we experience words that cut, actions that bruise, and inaction that wounds.
As we walk forward from these experiences toward the gate that leads toward our freedom, if we don’t leave bitterness and hatred behind, we’ll remain in prison.
It’s the prison Sue Klebold escaped from when she finally forgave her son for what he did.
It’s the prison Anne Marie was released from when she let go of ill-will toward the entire Klebold family.
And if we choose to depart from the prison of existing in past wrongs, we will be liberated with the gifts of increased wisdom, greater empathy, and life-giving forgiveness. [Tweet this.] | [Share on Facebook.]
This is your day. Live Inspired.