Columbine survivor seeks balance in her life after the tragedy. Brittany Davies, whose life combines basketball, her spiritual side, aviation and her family, knows more than just a little about role models. This Columbine survivor was schooled by her father, a police officer, and later by Coach William “Dave” Sanders, a Columbine coach who died in the tragic school massacre seven years ago. Following the horrific shootings on April 20, 1999, Davies said her personality became something she didn’t respect, a “person I didn’t like” Since then, with help from her parents and a Columbine survivors’ support initiative as well as a commitment to her education, athletic activities and her grandmother, Davies has emerged a positive person and a role model for anyone of any age who might suffer the kind of shock she suffered that Colorado spring day. This energetic young woman, a self-described tomboy, was in the Columbine cafeteria at the time Coach Sanders ran in and called out that shots had been fired. Many in the cafeteria thought it was a prank, but Sanders shouted emphatically, “Get down, everyone.”
Davies says now that she knew Sanders was serious because his face was red and she recognized his tone, and “it was a sign he meant what he was saying.” She had been counseled by her dad that “’if you ever hear a gunshot, get out of where you are.’ I wanted to run, but I didn’t know where they (the shooters) were or how many there were.”
A fan of television cop shows who had watched them with her dad, Davies grabbed her best friend and started running. The two girls came within five feet and eight feet, respectively, of bombs that didn’t explode because, as the story goes, the gunmen had used plastic watches rather than metal watches. The two girls grabbed another friend and began running up the stairs to the stage area. Davies did a “sweep” of the hallways by looking up and down and then took her friends and ran out a side door and hopped a fence to the parking lot, where they found someone’s car to jump into. Dr. Lisa Van BramerShe recalls, “The whole thing for me took about a half hour. When we got to a phone, I called Mom and Dad at their jobs, and then they came home, where they stayed the day. We watched the television news for the next four hours. As we watched the television, friends started coming to our house to offer support. Every time we knew someone had come out of the school safely, there would be clapping. Coach Sanders died a hero that day. What better legacy to leave than to save kids? He had spent his whole life helping kids.” Coach Sanders died of blood loss after being shot in the neck and back inside the south hallway in Columbine High School. After the massacre, Davies turned angry. “I did turn into a person I didn’t like,” she says.
Suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, she refused therapy. Her grandfather died later that year, following the Columbine tragedy, and she was angry. “My parents sat down with me and cried, asking me to get help,” she says. “I started going to the Columbine Connection, a help center fully staffed and providing a place for kids to go. There were therapists, activities and more activities. It was a great program. It took me awhile to make the decision to go, but once I did, it was a really good decision. “The hardest thing was to admit I needed help. I absolutely know this (going through the Columbine tragedy) made me a better person. There are many negative things in life, but good things can come out of it,” Davies now says of Columbine. Davies was a sophomore at the time of Columbine. Now, seven years later, she has earned a degree in aviation technology from Metro State College. She is pleased to be finishing at a school ranked third in the nation as an aviation technology school. She is employed at the Denver Jet Center at Centennial Airport working on the corporate side of aviation.
While studying, Davies accumulates flying hours. It has been a process slowed by her commitment to other activities that she considers important to keeping her centered. One activity she has held in passionate regard, and one that still ties her to Coach Sanders’ memory, is basketball. She played the sport for two years at Metro following her time at Columbine. In her junior year at Metro, she decided to give up college basketball to concentrate on her flying career. She hopes her career will result in an airline job while she continues to build flying time. She says her total number of flying hours is on the low side at 250. “I want to work through the ratings and get a multi-engine license,” she says. She targets getting an Airlines Transport Pilot rating as her goal. “You have to be 23 years old to get an ATP rating,” the 22-year-old says. Dr. Lisa Van BramerFlying is only one of the many dimensions defining Brittany Davies. “There are many parts to me. I didn’t rush to finish my ratings. I like balance in life, being a well-rounded person. For me to be a part of other things is important. I think you have to keep yourself grounded,” she joked and added no pun was intended in reference to her flying. Religion and spirituality are significant to Davies, too. Reared in a Catholic family, she attends mass twice a week. She also participates in a young adult group, the next level, or TNL, where current themes and music are a part of the program. “I have to have traditional religion as well as spiritual opportunities to look inward,” she explains.
Davies says that after Columbine she was angry at God and angry at life. She couldn’t understand how such an awful thing could happen, and she turned away from God. She credits her grandmother with leading her back to her faith: “We’d talk and she would say that things happen for a reason. My grandmother was a very good connection. She didn’t push me. ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,'” she would say. This grandmother, her paternal grandmother, is her personal role model. In her spiritual seeking, Davies gave up being judgmental for the Lenten season. She has found that everyone has deep takes on life, and in a lot of instances, we don’t know the underlying things about others. In addition to work, school and church, Davies works out, exercising in the way that’s always been her salvation. “It’s my sanity,” she says. And the Davies family volunteers together at the VFW at Hampden and Federal. Davies and her 21-year-old sister, Margaret, are traveling on two church missions, where they will play basketball. “My sister and I are joined at the hip,” Davies says. They will travel to Ecuador with a group from Mullen High School to a center started by a priest. There they will teach life skills such as cooking.
Then in August, the sisters are traveling with Crossover Ministries to the Czech Republic and Germany to teach basketball and talk about faith. “We will teach them about God. We will help get rid of misconceptions. At night, we’ll play basketball with professional basketball players,” she remarks. Basketball has been a mainstay for Davies. On the night before Columbine, she was at the gym with Coach Sanders, who said to the girls, “You can’t get those Davies girls out of the gym.”
“I look back and think that was a gift. His work with us was instrumental to me. My promise to myself is that every time I step on the basketball court, I am playing basketball for Coach Sanders,” she says. Davies’ past year has been spent with her grandmother while she battled cancer. “I saw my grandmother pretty much every day of my life. Four years ago, she found out she had lung cancer. She was 79 and had a long battle with that and bounced back. When she was 80, she had her second hole-in-one while playing golf,” says Davies. For the last six months of their grandmother’s life, Davies and her sister moved in with her. “Even more than Columbine, the hardest journey has been to watch my grandmother deteriorate for the last six months of her life. We talked about her death all the time. We took care of her and got to the point where we had to cook food, give her baths and so on,” she says.
After her passing, Davies wrote the eulogy saying her grandmother had had a good life. She reminisces, “Before she died, I held her hand every day, talked with her every day. The hardest thing for her was to let go of us. She died January 12. Maggie had turned 21, and I had technically finished college. The last three days were so hard. I miss her daily — the closest person I’ve ever lost in my life, and the last six months were spent with her.”
This is Brittany — close to her family, close to her spiritual side, best friends with the basketball hoop, a pilot in the making.
By SHARON ALMIRALL
Photography KIT WILLIAMS