Survivor remembers Columbine 20 years after deadly school shooting

It's been 20 years since a mass shooting at Columbine High School changed the landscape around safety and violence for students nationwide.

It wasn't the first shooting and certainly wouldn't be the last, with tragedies like Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech to follow.

So what has changed, what have we learned and where are we now? FOX 32 spoke with those who know firsthand to find out.

It was April 20th, 1999 -- a day the country and especially Columbine freshman Laura Farber would never forget. Thirteen people were killed in what at the time was the deadliest high school shooting in history.

For Farber, it was a lot to process.

“It was private. And it was personal,” she said.

Even early on, the Columbine freshman wanted to make a difference.

“I said I wanted to help future mass shooting survivors. And I remember at the time thinking - well that's awful - there shouldn't be anymore,” Farber said.

But "shouldn't" hasn't been enough to stop the violence. Since Columbine, nearly 250,000 children have been exposed to gun violence in the classroom.

For many students, the question has changed from "why me" to "when me.”

“This need exists, and we have to fill that void,” said Colleen Ross of the FBI.

Another change is shooting response. Ross is an FBI victim specialist -- part of a unit that didn't exist during the Columbine event.

“You respond on scene. As a victim specialist, it's all about finding out who the victims are,” Ross said.

Last year, Ross was part of a team providing help after the Dixon High School shooting, providing resources and updates for victims -- many of whom had lots of questions.

“They often ask - am I doing OK - am I doing the right thing? Should I be doing something differently? And I always tell them - you just do the best you can. No major decisions the next 30 days. You don't go buying a car, you don't sell your house, you don't go on that wild vacation that you were hoping to go on,” Ross said.

Now, it's all about students being prepared.

“At the end of the day, we're not going to be able to put everything back together. It's a puzzle that's missing that one piece. And it's never going to have that piece again,” Ross said.

Both Ross and Farber say that missing piece might look different on everyone. There's no "one size fits all" for processing a tragic event.

“Kids running out with their hands behind their heads - that brings back a lot of memories. And like - it makes my heart hurt for them because I know what's coming in this process for the survivors of those shootings,” Farber said.

Since then, Farber went on to Columbia College in Chicago and became a TV and film producer.

“It was important to me that we write the new narrative for Columbine - we being the Columbine alumni in our own words,” Farber said.

She created "We Are Columbine" -- a documentary focused on her classmates and staff who were there when the shooting happened.

“They go back to school, they do a walkthrough, you go back to ground zero, you tell your story,” Farber said. “This was my way of working through the 20th. I had gone to some therapy and stuff, but I still never really talked about it.”

Farber says just talking is what works for her. That and being around loved ones.

“That's huge for healing. That comradery - knowing that we're all in this together,” Farber said.

Trying to change the message around Columbine -- from death and tragedy -- to looking forward.

“I hope that it can be hopeful. It just takes a while. I mean, 20 years,” Farber said.