Fall/Winter 2002


My Columbine Story
by Valerie Haile

A part of me would like to say that high school was the place I learned what talents I had, what dreams I could accomplish, and what my future could hold for me. But that is just not the way I entered it.

I was, in a sense, another misfit who spent time between classes at the smokers pit and questioned my teachers and my peers. I was in trouble several times for smoking,


"I would say to God, "If you exist and you want me to know who you are, I need something... ...Little did I know that my outcry would be answered before I left high school."

drugs, and just flat out causing trouble. To me there was no hope for any of us, and I was one of the students who knew that early on.

Take the athletes, the popular kids, and the "academics" for example. While I had my own opinion of the athletes for their scorn for your average misfit, and pitied their
counterpart when I would see them hit the books so hard they had bleeding ulcers at the age of eighteen, and envied the popular and "beautiful elite" that ran my school, I felt sorry for all of them. Sorry they would be let down so hard when they realized there is no hope in the game of life. I felt I was ahead of the game and the goal was to get out unscathed.

I looked around at my world and saw people doing the same things day-in-and-day-out preparing themselves for ten years down the road, twenty and I kept telling myself that the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again expecting different results. I felt that in some way I was free.

I may have felt free but I also felt empty. I had been to a few youth groups and churches and never really believed anything that I heard. I questioned the validity of the church and had always felt that it was a form of control and that God was a hope for people and did not exist. I could not believe that any all loving God could do things to people that we should be lucky enough to only hear about on the news. But I still felt that I needed to find out why I see so many who believe as strongly as some of them do.

I guess I always had this curiosity or this idea that God was there but I was a person that needed something a little bigger then blind faith at the time. I would say to God, "If you exist and you want me to know who you are, I need something–something that would make it impossible for me personally to deny your existence." A ridiculous request, but one that I had made. Little did I know that my outcry would be answered before I left high school.

In my junior year, I started dating a great guy who was active in forensics at Columbine high. He had written a play that was approved by the administration to perform as the spring play. I was never really taken seriously at my own high school, so when he asked for my help as a part of the crew, I was thrilled.

Tryouts came and I was helping with the casting, and although some of the parts were difficult to find the perfect person to cast, the lead part of a character named "Val" was immediately taken by Rachel Scott. She was perfect for it and nailed it on the first try.

On the first day of practice, I was feeling a little nervous around people I did not know in a school I didn't attend, and in need of a cigarette and not knowing anyone else who smoked except for my boyfriend who didn't have one. Luckily he suggested I ask Rachel. I was a little scared about asking just in case he was wrong, but I did and she immediately smiled and said; "yeah, do you mind if I come with you?" I had no idea that would be the beginning of the most influential and life-changing experience I would ever have.

After that first cigarette, we would hang out in the car or outside the school just talking about anything and everything while we waited for Rachel's scenes to cue. I pretty much told her everything about myself. The way I felt toward life, my problems with things I didn't think she would really understand or empathize with.

One night, after pouring my heart out, I stopped and realized that I had probably said way too much and possibly lowered her opinion of me. I apologized for ranting and she just smiled and said, "I'm glad you were able to just open up to me like that." I could immediately tell that she had not judged a single word of what I had said, but rather, felt glad that I felt close enough to her to trust her with such information. It was the side of a true female friendship that I didn't think was possible during the high school years. Most girls would smile and nod then turn around and spread it all over. That is if I was even given the time of day by someone outside of my "smokers pit click". I had my own insecurities though.

I was dating the director and feeling self-conscious about my problems with jealousy and here I was with the most beautiful, confident, and down-to-earth girl I had ever met, who was around my boyfriend all the time. It took a lot of soul-searching to fight my problems but eventually I got over it and just had fun with my new friend and with the play. She was the first girlfriend I had that would eat hot wings without talking about how it was going to affect her weight. So after the play we continued our friendship and spent time outside a local bookstore or just talking at restaurants.

Through our talks and just watching her with other people, Rachel taught me that life is more miserable if it's spent sweating the small stuff. She listened to me go on about my bitterness towards ex-boyfriends, my classmates and my high school life in general. Her answer was always "Gees, Val, you need to stop worrying all the time. Does all that anger and bitterness really solve anything? No? Then knock it off!" as a rustic WWJD necklace made of shoestring dangled from her neck.

Rachel never sugar-coated anything. What you thought was a huge problem was immediately put into perspective once you laid it out for her. She taught me that true friends would always be there, the right guy will always be there, and my family will always be there, and that they are the most important things.

"I believe Columbine was the beginning of a spiritual revolution in youth as it had become a new beginning for me."
Tuesday, April 20, 1999 started out as any normal day would, but would end as the worst day of my entire life. As America's worst school tragedy unfolded, I thought about all the people I loved at that school and felt helpless watching the television, answering phone calls and trying to make contact with everybody. There were rumors flying everywhere and confusion so deep that it was difficult to believe it wasn't all some terrible nightmare.

The night pressed on and all of us gathered together looking for the one person we had not heard from hoping she was just hiding and too scared to leave. We all worked on this assumption until we found her car in the parking lot the next day.

The school had been cleared, no phone calls from Rachel, and no signs that she had even left the school. The inevitable began to sink in. So many thoughts rushed through my mind at the same time like, "But I just saw her the day before...We had plans to see a movie...She was going to move out with a friend and get abstract art for the walls of her new place...She was going to write the play for next year...How could this have happened?" "Who could do this to such a wonderful person?"

Between the press, the rumors, and the blank faces of my friends, I had hit rock bottom with faith. I didn't believe a loving "God" would do this to someone who loved Him so much. I had become angry with everyone. I couldn't stand to see how ugly people truly are to one another and how true faith did nothing to bring Rachel out of the clutches of pure evil. The month following her death was a blur of emotions so painful that it was difficult to breathe some days. Over the many painful months that followed, my bitterness grew and the question of my life would go unanswered.

After the release of her parents book, "Rachel's Tears", in spring of 2000, I had become confounded. I learned of Rachel's premonition that her life would be short, but for a special purpose not known to her. I knew she wanted to reach many people on a spiritual level and would do anything for others even if it was just to cheer them up.

As I turned the last page of the book, teary-eyed and in awe, I had felt that my request, my "life's question" had been answered. God had given me the chance to spend time with a living angel and I would forever be grateful to Him and to Rachel for giving me hope and a purpose. Thanks to Rachel, I turned around my life and now have a wonderful relationship with "my Savior" and I have a newfound respect and love for people that I never had before. Rachel's kindness was so strong and I can think of nothing better then to carry the torch that was dropped.

Foremost, I no longer could deny God as I could recognize His handiwork in all of the pain and suffering. He gave Rachel a clue that she would be used to do His work just like she always wanted. I believe God used her in a powerful way beyond her imagination to cause a change in the world. I believe Columbine was the beginning of a spiritual revolution in youth as it had become a new beginning for me.

Over the past three years since the tragedy, I have seen so many good things happen and have seen so many people revived and loving one another inspired by Rachel's legacy. It has helped me heal and grow in my relationship with others. I am so thankful for the short time that I had with Rachel and I am continually amazed by how many people's lives have changed because of her legacy.

At one time in my life, I never thought I would find the love of God. Now, nobody could convince me otherwise.

Valerie Haile is 20 years old and a graduate of Dakota Ridge High School in Littleton. She is currently pursuing an Associate of Arts degree at Arapahoe Community College, also in Littleton, Colorado. She is undecided about a career for now, but has several interests she is considering, one of which is web design.

She is a long-time member of the Columbine community and was a friend of slain Columbine student, Rachel Scott. Interestingly, the character that Rachel played in the school play they both worked on was named "Val" whose character was also developed after her.

Valerie is the research and content coordinator of www.racheljoyscott.com and also manager of the site's guestbook. She is also a skilled artist specializing in the graphite medium and loves to write.

We look forward to more of Valerie's heartfelt stories in the future. She is a wonderful person and we feel so very honored to have her on board.

If you enjoyed Valerie's story and would like to contact her with thoughts or opinions, feel free to
email Valerie.


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