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Colorado shooting: Columbine survivors reach out to help Aurora survivors

Colorado shooting: Columbine students who survived what in 1999 attack are reaching out, on Facebook and by phone, to those families of victims and survivors of the Aurora theater shooting.

By Kristen WyattAssociated Press / July 24, 2012

Anne Marie Hochhalter and her friend Roxy Chesser, standing to right, attend a prayer vigil in a park outside the Aurora Municipal Center in Aurora, Colo., Sunday. Hochhalter survived the Columbine High School tragedy over 12 years ago, and is now reaching out to people who survived the Aurora theater shooting.

(AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez)

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Aurora, Colo.

Anne Marie Hochhalter, wearing a silver cross around her neck, sat in the front row of a vigil for the victims of the Colorado theater massacre.

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Her connections to those wounded in the attack early Friday at an Aurora movie theater was closer than most.

Paralyzed in the 1999 Columbine massacre, the 30-year-old Hochhalter said she can offer a little hope to the victims' loved ones and the survivors. "I would tell them that with time, it does get better. But it never goes away," she said.

Columbine students who survived what in 1999 was the worst school massacre in U.S. history are reliving their own experiences. And they're banding together to try to help. On Facebook and by phone, they are reaching out to people who witnessed the attack.

Young people were victims and witnesses in both the theater shootings and the ones at Columbine. The Columbine survivors want those at the movie theater to know that the road ahead of them won't be easy.

"Similar to the graduating senior class from Columbine, they may soon find themselves surrounded by people who have no clue that they were involved in a traumatic event," Columbine survivor Ben Lausten wrote on a Facebook page for survivors of school shootings.

"Breaking down and crying for no apparent reason (which is perfectly normal!) is harder to do in an office, or a business, or in 'normal' society," he said. "These victims have a challenging path ahead of them."

Another piece of advice: Don't waste time trying to figure out what motivated the shooter or shooters.

"It's a waste of time, and it gives them exactly what they want," said Hochhalter, who was eating lunch as a 17-year-old junior when she was shot on April 20, 1999. Even as the years pass, she said, she's no closer to understanding why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 11 classmates, a teacher, and then themselves.

"I don't think I'll ever understand," Hochhalter said.

But the Columbine survivors understand this: The Aurora survivors will need to talk. And they promise to listen.

"We know what they are going through, and we can help," wrote Michelle Romero Wheeler, a Columbine survivor who posted links to sites supporting people at the theater shooting.

Sunday's Vigil

Among the thousands at Sunday's vigil was Darius Harvey, 18, of Aurora, who was in the theater during the shooting and lost a friend in the massacre.

"I was there and I'm part of this community. I felt I should be here," Harvey said. "It's good for healing the community and I felt that it is very necessary for our state and community to know that our nation cares about us." He then joined the crowd in singing "Amazing Grace."

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