20 Years After School Shooting, Current Columbine Students Spotlight Horrors of Gun Violence
With her #MyLastShot campaign, Kaylee Tyner wants students to pledge to publicize photos of their bodies if they die in a mass shooting
Kaylee Tyner, 17, doesn’t have any direct experience with gun violence. But as a current senior at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, she feels its lingering shadow over her town every day.
“I’ve seen firsthand how it doesn’t go away — how it continues to affect your community even two decades later,” she tells PEOPLE.
The 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre is today — April 20. On this same day in 1999, two teen gunmen, Dylan Klebold, 17, and Eric Harris, 18, opened fire at their high school a little after 11 a.m. Twelve students and one teacher were killed. The two gunmen also died by suicide.
To help commemorate the massacre and raise awareness about the ongoing gun violence epidemic, Tyner conceived a campaign called #MyLastShot, along with fellow students from Columbine High School, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and other schools victimized by shootings.
The campaign asks people to agree to allow graphic images of their dead bodies to be released to the public in the event that they die in a mass shooting. “By pledging to share your photo, and presenting the world with the harsh reality of gun violence, you have an opportunity to create change through opening up a new dialogue on this issue,” the MyLastShot website reads.
Students can print out or order a sticker from the site to affix to their license, ID, or phone, which reads: “In the event that I die from gun violence please publicize the photo of my death.”
Tyner and co. have been working on the campaign — which launched late last month — for about a year. She says she was inspired by Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley, who in 1955, insisted that her murdered African-American son’s casket remain open after he was mutilated and tortured by two white men in Mississippi. Magazines like Jet published graphic, disturbing photos of 14-year-old Till’s body to force people to confront the racist violence that victimized Till. “I think everybody needed to know what happened to Emmett Till,” his mother said, according to PBS.
“The graphic images of [Till’s] open casket helped to spark the civil rights movement,” Tyner says. “The more I thought about that, and how we [usually] only see the victims’ faces — we never really see the horrific aspects of gun violence — is when I started to think of the idea for the project.”
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Though #MyLastShot is still gaining steam, Tyner says it is attracting attention from notable legislators like Colorado State Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son was killed in the Aurora shooting. “He has shown a lot of support for the project,” Tyner says. “He actually keeps pictures of his son and how he died on his phone to show people.”
Tyner says she shipped about 4,000 stickers to students and gun violence prevention groups prior to the campaign’s March 27 launch. “We’ve been having more people print them out from our website and order them as well,” she says, emphasizing that the campaign is for everyone, regardless of background or political affiliation. “I’m just hoping that the project will continue to grow and expand.”
Aware of the fact that publicizing images of people killed by gun violence may be hard to accept for some, Tyner insists the aim of #MyLastShot is for the greater good. Jarring people’s sensibilities is precisely the point, she says.
“It’s supposed to make you think. It’s supposed to make you uncomfortable,” she explains. “If you’re uncomfortable with the thought of these images being released, then you also need to be uncomfortable with the fact that gun violence is as much of an issue as it is in our country.”