NewsColumbine: 25 Years Later


'The path of love': Columbine survivor Sean Graves recounts how he beat the odds to walk again

“Quite literally, I had to learn to crawl again before I could walk again," he remembers.
Posted: 7:21 PM, Apr 18, 2024
Updated: 2024-04-19 22:06:17-04
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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — As the 25-year mark approaches since tragedy struck at Columbine High School, many of the survivors, like Sean Graves, still struggle with the loss, but are moving forward to live their best lives.

Graves was a freshman on April 20, 1999 — the day 13 people lost their lives at the school. Many more were injured, but survived.

He was one of them.

He was shot while walking outside the school with his friends Lance Kirklin and Danny Rohrbough during a break after lunch and before an afternoon test.

“Dan didn’t want to go with us,” Graves remembered. “And I actually really wanted him to come with me because, well, he was a funny kid. I was stressing out about this test, and I knew he’d get me laughing. So, I convinced him to go with us.”

And for years, Graves blamed himself for something he had no control over.

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Columbine survivor Sean Graves describes wounds he received on April 20, 1999.

“It was that memory I repressed because I blame myself for getting Dan, you know," he said, drifting off. "I essentially asked him to walk to his death. And that weighed on me.”

He still recalls where he stood, and where his friends were, when it all happened. He thought the firearms were paintball guns — maybe part of a senior prank game, he said.

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A 15-year-old Sean Graves leaves the hospital in July 1999.

But then everything changed.

“Dan got hit,” Graves said. “I’m looking back because I’m still confused on where the paint is, you know? I’m not seeing any paint hitting anything. No splatter, nothing. And I’m looking back and as I’m looking back, I was grazed in the neck. Had I not been (looking back), it probably would have been the center of my throat.”

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A second bullet hit his T12 along his spine.

"I started praying a lot, both that help would be coming and that I would walk again," Graves said.

In the days and weeks that followed, the Columbine tragedy would grip the nation and the world.

Columbine High School shooting victim Sean Graves, center, cuts the ribbon to welcome reporters and photographers into his parents' home that has been modified to be accessible to wheelchairs early Thursday, Aug. 26, 1999, in the southwest Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo. Close to 45 trade organizations have spent the past two months to prepare the house for Graves, who was left paralyzed from the waist down after being shot during the shooting spree at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

And although the road to recovery was long and grueling, Graves made it his mission to beat the odds.

“A lot of them were just like, 'Well, if you do walk, it’s going to be confined to a walker or you’re going to be using walking leg braces like Forrest Gump did in the movie there,'” Graves said. “And I wasn’t satisfied with those responses and so I kept pushing and I made it my goal.”

He attended physical therapy nearly every afternoon at Craig Hospital for three years.

“I was there busting my butt, learning how to navigate life, relearning how to walk,” Graves said. “Quite literally, I had to learn to crawl again before I could walk again.”

When he graduated from Columbine High School in 2002, he brought the house down by walking across the stage to receive his diploma.

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The 13 victims of the Columbine High School tragedy.

Graves is now helping others who have been recently disabled or injured.

“As far as their life of recovery and learning to navigate life now without the use of their legs — I give them hope," he said.

It's an ongoing journey of forgiveness and love.

“We choose to go with the path of love, at least I have," he said. "And that’s how I’ve always looked at it. I’m living life, making the best out of every situation that’s handed to me.”

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