Columbine survivor says mission trip to Africa helped him let go of his anger

Signage for Columbine High School during a 25th Year Remembrance ceremony on April 19, 2024 at First Baptist Church of Denver in Denver, Colorado. Twelve students and one teacher were shot and killed and many more injured on April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in a school shooting that shocked the country at the time.
Signage for Columbine High School during a 25th Year Remembrance ceremony on April 19, 2024 at First Baptist Church of Denver in Denver, Colorado. Twelve students and one teacher were shot and killed and many more injured on April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in a school shooting that shocked the country at the time. | Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

A survivor of the Columbine High School massacre whose sister was murdered in the Colorado school shooting recounted how a mission trip to Africa helped him understand the importance of truly letting go of anger in an attitude of forgiveness. 

Speaking to The Christian Post from Denver amid media interviews he has been doing this week to mark the 25th anniversary of the tragedy, 41-year-old Craig Scott shared how his horrific experience on April 20, 1999, equipped him to speak into some of the deepest pains of today's young people.

'Get out of there'

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Scott was only 16 years old when he heard loud popping sounds while studying for a biology test at a table in the school library with his friend Matt Kechter. The sounds were the first gunshots fired by seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, which prompted Scott to hide beneath a table with his friend.

Most of the shooters' victims were killed in the library that day, and Scott was overcome with terror after witnessing the murder of Kechter and his other friend Isaiah Shoels. As he cowered beneath the table covered in blood, Scott prayed for God to remove his fear.

Days after the shooting, he claimed during an interview on the "Today" show that after he cried out to God, he heard a voice in his mind instructing him to escape the library, which is a story he maintains a quarter-century later.

"I just ended up laying on the floor," Scott said in 1999. "I was praying to God to give me courage and to keep protection over us. He told me to get out of there. God told me to get out of there." He would help other students escape from the library, where the shooters killed most of their victims.

Police informed Scott and his family the next day that his sister, 17-year-old Rachel Joy Scott, was the first student Harris and Klebold killed. They reportedly taunted her for her outspoken Christian faith at gunpoint before taking her life.

After murdering 12 students and a teacher, Harris and Klebold took their own lives in the library. Twenty-one others suffered gunshot wounds and three more were injured amid the chaos.

'I was becoming more like the shooters'

Rachel Scott's story would go on to inspire Rachel's Challenge, a bullying and school violence prevention nonprofit, and prompted Craig to speak out about the pain he had experienced.

During an interview with CNN in 2012, Scott recounted how the anger he harbored toward his sister's murderers threatened to drag him into the same spiritual darkness that had consumed them. He remembered a moment when he exploded in rage toward his close younger brother, terrifying him as he pulled a knife on him.

"I was outside of myself, and I realized I was becoming more like the shooters as I focused on them and held on to my anger and hatred toward them," Scott said at the time.

Scott told CP that he began learning to let go of his anger after being invited to take his sister's place in her planned mission trip to Africa with an Evangelical youth organization. While ministering to hurting people living in refugee camps, he said he met people who had suffered even worse losses than he had, which taught him the healing power of gratitude and forgiveness.

"I met a person who had lost 17 members of their family due to their whole tribe being killed but still lived a life of forgiveness," he said, adding that he returned from the two-month trip realizing that he never has a reason to complain about anything.

"I remember in Africa, I began to really let go," he said. "And how I would do it is, I would literally take my emotion of anger in my hands as if it were physical thing, and I would just release it up to Heaven. I would give it to God. And it wasn't a one-time thing. I would have to do it again and again, especially as I saw [the shooters'] faces on the news."

'It's a spiritual issue'

One aspect of what angered Scott when he was young was the news stories that presented Harris and Klebold as victims by suggesting that relentless bullying had pushed them to the edge.

"That was not a big factor into why Columbine happened," he said.

Scott, who had interacted with both shooters before the massacre, maintained that they both had friends at school and that Harris often lied and "was probably more of a bully than bullied."

Klebold, by contrast, was prone to fits of rage and was suicidally depressed and "thought he didn't matter," Scott said.

Citing their journals, Scott noted that both boys focused on the negative in life, with Harris seeing the worst in other people and Klebold seeing the worst in himself.

"To me, it's a deeper issue; it's a spiritual issue and an issue dealing also with mental health," he said regarding Harris, Klebold and other school shooters. "But the problems are in the hearts of young people, and that's also where the solutions are."

Scott, who began speaking publicly about his experience when he was 18 and has since addressed hundreds of schools and millions of people, said he always emphasizes the importance of focusing on the good things in life when he speaks.

Noting how society has become much more merciless and unforgiving than when he was growing up, he observed how increasing numbers of young people he meets are battling loneliness, depression and thoughts of suicide, which he said statistically pose a greater threat to young people than a school shooting.

"The bigger issue is the loneliness and depression," he said. "Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers in our country, so that's a much bigger issue. But you don't combat problems by just focusing on the problem, you combat problems by focusing on the solution."

He also noted that such negative emotions have only worsened in the past 25 years with the advent of social media.

"Have you ever been so angry that you held on to that anger for a long time? Imagine that you never let it go and then you fed it," Scott said in response to those who question how a school shooter could perpetrate such heinous acts.

"And imagine that you just started seeing the worst in everybody and everything, disconnecting yourself from other people, and then choosing very negative, hateful influences through media, which any kid can find," he added.

"Now, can you see how it could happen?"

Scott, who has struggled with depression, said he has come to believe that the solution to depression and other negative emotions such as loneliness, anger and hatred is "thankfulness and gratitude."

'Forgiveness sets you free'

Forgiveness is a major step along the path to healing, Scott said.

"There's a time for emotion after something unjust happens in your life, but if you're holding onto it for years and years, then you become a prisoner of unforgiveness," Scott said. 

"What people misunderstand is that forgiveness is for you," he said. "Forgiveness sets you free. It's not always for the other person. Sometimes, we forgive, and that person isn't even in our life. It's letting go of our right to be angry."

Because holding on to the right to be angry is often logically justified, Scott acknowledged that forgiveness is often difficult, but he noted that followers of Christ are called to it.

"Spiritually, you're supposed to choose the path to forgiveness," he said. "Forgiveness is an attitude. It's not just a one-time event. It's an attitude that we embrace: that I'm a forgiving person, I will let go of the offenses that others cause against me, and I'll be free from that."

"And that's a great way to live," he added.

Scott, who operates a website, is rolling out a new podcast on Saturday called "Pain into Purpose," which features the stories of others who have found meaning through their suffering.

Jon Brown is a reporter for The Christian Post. Send news tips to

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