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LOUISVILLE – Brittney Thomas was 15 years old when a classmate opened fire in his prayer circle at Heath High School in Paducah 20 years ago – the same age as the two students who were killed this week in a gunfight at the nearby Marshall County high school.

Another 18 students were injured during Tuesday's attack in Benton, Kentucky, and many others were also traumatized by the experience. The survivors join a growing group of people who have experienced mass shootings in schools and other places in America.

Thomas is now ready, along with the survivors of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999, to embrace the students of Marshall County and their families during the difficult months and years to come.

"When the shooting happened to me, I could not understand anything," said Thomas, who is now 35 and lives in Lexington. "We'll wait a little for that fog to rise, and then we're ready and waiting for them, for whatever they may need."

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Amy Over – A Columbine survivor who is part of The Rebels Project, a non-profit organization that supports to survivors of massive trauma – was recently in Paducah for the 20th anniversary of the Heath High shooting. The news about Marshall County hit her hard.

"We were in high school when our shooting also happened, so we felt that connection," Over said. "It breaks my heart that these children … are beginning their healing journey."

The Rebel Project is sending wristbands to Marshall County with the name of the local high school and the organization's website, therebelsproject.org, to show their support, Over said.

His fellow Columbine survivor, Heather Martin, emphasized that The Rebels Project is a resource available to students and their families immediately, although the group will not knock on its doors with offers of help.

"We go back a step, we let them grieve," Over said, "we're there in the long run."

"We go back a little, we let them grieve, we're there in the long run."

Amy Over, Columbine survivor and representative of The Rebels Project

The organization runs a private Facebook group called "The Rebels Project: Providing support to the needy", which is open to mass trauma survivors and their families , including students from Marshall County. The group has more than 500 members, who share their experiences among themselves and often ask for advice.

The Rebel Project also plans to launch a free counseling program this year, said Over, the organization's fundraising director. And already hosts a meet every summer in Colorado, where survivors from across the country can connect in person.

"We have survivors everywhere," he said. "There is so much power and healing when you have someone who understands what you've been through."

Thomas is a member of The Rebels Project and also of the Survivors Council, a group composed of people affected by different types of crimes that the Prosecutor Kentucky General Andy Beshear created last year to advise his office on how to better support victims.

The Survivors Council is there to support the students and families of Marshall County as well, but it will give them time to process what happened first said Thomas. , who has two cousins ​​who attend Marshall County High.

Although school shootings have become more frequent in the two decades since the Heath High attack, Thomas said that she and others did not believe it would happen again in her community. The tragedy of this week shattered that sense of security.

"Somehow, in the back of our heads, we thought that Paducah and this area would always be safe now because it happened here, and lightning did not hit twice in the same place, "he said. "I think every time a shooting happens, it brings back memories, but when it's right on the road, you get angry because you think everyone learned what happened to you."

Martin, who was a senior at Columbine High when that massacre occurred, said the healing process after a gunfight like the one in Marshall County can last for years.

"We graduated and went to college and basically collapsed," he said of his fellow Columbine survivors. about 10 years to deal with it. "

Sharing stories with other survivors helps, Martin said, starting The Rebels Project, of which he is co-founder and CEO, has changed lives.

" It has really been a big part of my process. of healing, "he said." I am forced to confront these feelings in order to help others. "

Martin's advice to survivors in Marshall County is that there is no right or wrong way to cry. for this experience in a different way.

"Do not judge yourself by your own grieving process," he suggested. "No one has all the answers."

Follow Morgan Watkins on Twitter: @ morganwatkins26


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