ELLSWORTH — Several days before she was shot and killed on the lawn outside of Columbine High School 20 years ago, 17-year-old Rachel Joy Scott wrote a disturbing and prescient entry in her journal.
“I’m dying,” Scott, a devout Christian, wrote.
“Quickly my soul leaves, slowly my body withers. It isn’t suicide. I consider it homicide. The world you created has led to my death.”
“That was the end of her life, but that was not the end of her story,” said Chris Mowery, addressing a group of several dozen parents, students and community members on a recent Tuesday evening in the auditorium at Ellsworth High School.
“We know that her death is a part of her story,” said Mowery, “but it’s not the part we choose to focus on.”
Columbine was not the first mass shooting at an American school, but it marked a turning point, ushering in a new era of active shooter drills and metal detectors and, as one concerned Boston area mother posted on Twitter, kindergartners learning nursery rhymes that remind them on how to hide from a shooter.
Mowery, who lives 1,400 miles east of Columbine High School in Canfield, Ohio, never knew Rachel Scott. But like many thousands of others, he watched on CNN as men in black suits carried her small white coffin into the Trinity Christian Center in Littleton, Colo. It touched Mowery.
“I wanted to have something to share with them,” he told the audience.
So he reached out, and eventually became involved with Rachel’s Challenge, a program started by Scott’s father several weeks after she died, that aims to replace bullying and violence with kindness and respect. It is based in part on an essay Scott wrote shortly before she was killed.
“I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion,” Scott wrote, “then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”
That’s the message that Mowery and other presenters travel around the country to spread.
“Speak kindness, recognize that your words have power,” Mowery said. “Sometimes people carry with them their entire life something somebody said to them.” Words, he continued, “have the power to hurt. They also have the power to heal.”
For several days, Mowery visited with students in the Ellsworth School Department, bidding them to accept Scott’s challenge. That means, said Mowery, looking for the best in others, choosing positive influences, speaking with kindness and “start your own chain reaction.”
“There seems to be a real disconnect between what me and other parents are saying to our kids at home and what we’re modeling for them at home,” Mowery said.
He continued: “It’s not easy for students; it’s not easy for adults. That’s why we call it a challenge.”