22 Years Later, Thurston School Shooting Survivor Helps Others Traumatized By Violence

May 20, 2020

Thursday (May 21) marks the 22nd anniversary of the Thurston High School shooting.  Two classmates were killed while 25 others were wounded. The shooter had also killed his parents the night before. As KLCC’s Brian Bull reports, one survivor now helps others heal from similar tragedies.

Justeen Brown, Thurston School Shooting survivor.
Credit The Onsite Foundation

Justeen Brown was in the cafeteria on the morning of May 21st, 1998 when bullets flew. She avoided being physically injured, and now teaches grade school math in Oregon. The 37-year-old educator is also part of a six-person advisory council with The Onsite Foundation, based in Nashville. The council has other survivors of school shootings, including Columbine and Parkland.

While that’s a grim connection among Brown and the rest of her colleagues, she says it helps her tremendously.

The Memorial Fence at Thurston High School, where student Kip Kinkel opened fire in 1998. The victims were students Ben Walker and Mikael Nicholauson, and Kinkel's parents, William and Faith Kinkel.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

“It brought us such connection," Brown tells KLCC, "because we just realized that no matter what trauma we have in our life - whether it was a big event like a mass shooting, or even just the trauma that we all carry from life experiences - being able to share and talk about it with each other brings so much healing.”

The Onsite Foundation’s program, Triumph Over Tragedy, provides support for mass shooting survivors. Foundation director Deanna Wantz says they use experiential therapy.

Deanna Wantz, director of The Onsite Foundation
Credit The Onsite Foundation

“We experience trauma as an action, and so in order to process and heal, we also have to do some sort of action to relieve it from our mind and our body," explains Wantz. 

"Some people use psychodrama with it, some people use art therapy, or equine therapy.”

Meanwhile, in a development tied to the pandemic shutdown, the Washington Post notes this past March was the first one in 18 years without a school shooting in the U.S.  The FBI notes that it’s also been one of the highest ever for gun sale applications.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.