Columbine Shooting Survivor Brings Healing Message To Bay Area

Matt Bigler
April 20, 2019 - 8:13 am

SAN FRANCISCO — Today marks the 20th anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School.  Back in 1999, Heather Martin was a 17-year-old senior at the Colorado school that would become synonymous with mass shootings

"I can't believe that I'm that old," said Martin, who recently visited the University of San Francisco to talk about her recovery from the tragedy and new efforts to help other communities mend from the all-too-common mass shootings. 

Martin has vivid memories of what happened on April 20, 1999. 

"Kids kind of ran everywhere and then a teacher said they're coming up the stairs and that we have to hide," Martin recalled. 'So me and 59 other kids barricades ourselves in the choir office where we moved the teachers' desks in front of it."

Her group was safely evacuated, but 12 of her peers and a teacher were killed by two teenage gunmen, who also took their own lives. The shooting also injured 20 others. 

For years, Martin didn't want to even think about Columbine. But for the 10th anniversary of the shooting, the principal invited survivors to visit. It was healing and life-changing for Martin, who returned to college, earned a teaching credential. She taught English in a high school in nearby Aurora, Colo. — a town that suffered a mass shooting when a gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theater in 2012. 

That's when she changed course again and became the executive director of the Rebel Project nonprofit, which is named after her high school's mascot.

"We support other communities in the aftermath of mass casualty events," she said. "So, something that we didn't have access to then were other people who had been through what we had been through."

Martin traveled to San Francisco to speak at a law enforcement conference held at USF that helped cops learn to deal with the aftermath of mass shootings, a problem that is not going away. There were 300 active shooter incidents in 2017, according to figures cited by, Richard Corriea, director of the International Criminal Justice Institute and a retired SFPD commander.