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National

Virginia Tech Shooting Survivor On The 10th Anniversary

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of the mass shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. Thirty-two people were killed. Seventeen were wounded, including Kristina Anderson. A college sophomore at the time, she was shot in the back and in the foot. Anderson now uses that trauma she experienced to help others. She started an organization called the Koshka Foundation for Safe Schools.

KRISTINA ANDERSON: I help schools, organizations, law enforcement be better prepared for similar events, as in active shooter scenarios. I think sometimes sharing what happened in my classroom and in others, as much as I can speak to - it brings a sense of reality to those people who, unfortunately even today, think that this will never happen in their neck of the woods. And so we're trying to further and motivate, really, preparedness, education and allowing people to start asking some these questions of - do we have a emergency response plan? How do we intend to reunify parents with their students in case of any type of emergency, let alone something as large a scale as Virginia Tech?

WERTHEIMER: You also, as I understand it, spend time with survivors of similar attacks. I can imagine that even with all of the time and distance that you've put between yourself and the event, that must be a fairly frightening thing to do.

ANDSERSON: It is. The life of a survivor - no one really tells you the handbook of what life will look like, you know, in the six or 12 months afterwards. I think for my own healing, I wanted to understand. I first reached out to Columbine survivors to ask them - because they'd had this experience for so much longer - how do you talk to potential, you know, friends or spouses? Do you tell people what you went through? And so I think in this club that you don't want to belong to, we've been able to create a safe space for people to share and to ask questions and to not feel as though they're burdening others because, so often, our close friends and parents and families - they want us to be OK. They want us to be resolved and to move forward steadfast. And I think that, personally, I can hold both beliefs and that I am overcoming adversity in many ways, but there are still parts in me that are scared in public places. The month of April is a very heavy month. And no one should feel ashamed about having to claim that space for themselves, whether it's been five or 20 years since an event.

WERTHEIMER: You have said in interviews that you don't always want to be known as the girl who got shot.

ANDSERSON: (Laughter) Yes.

WERTHEIMER: I wonder, I mean, have you ever done some thinking about what act two is for you if you decide to move on from this to something else?

ANDSERSON: Yes, absolutely. I think my work will always be informed by Virginia Tech and that incident for some time, but currently I'm pursuing - I'm thinking about pursuing graduate school. So either something in the public health realm or clinical psychology. Some of my most helpful time has been with counselors who are - who are clinical therapists.

And I think I want to focus on - how do we help survivors of mass trauma? And so it shouldn't matter whether it's an airplane attack, a workplace violence incident or a school shooting. We do, I think, need to have organizational plans of - what do we do for people in the aftermath? And for me, I did not seek counseling until eight months after the shooting occurred. And I saw how difficult that process can be both from personal reasons and logistical reasons, so I never want anyone else to travel that path by themselves. And beyond that, we'll see. I have aspirations of a breakfast company, as well, so we'll see about that.

ANDSERSON: Aspirations for what?

ANDSERSON: I'm sorry - aspirations of a breakfast company. I love eggs. That's a whole complete side note, but...

(LAUGHTER)

ANDSERSON: I think after a while, I need something a little bit less serious, if that makes sense.

WERTHEIMER: I think, well, it makes a tremendous amount of sense to me. Do you do anything on the anniversary of the shooting? Is this - is it an event for you?

ANDSERSON: The anniversary is absolutely an event. I can - yes, I can feel it approaching. What I do has changed over the years. Some years, I've gone back to Virginia Tech. I'll return this year. I usually - now I'm in a space where I try to do something very peaceful, but I'm usually surrounded by family and friends. And I always check in with some of the first responders and my close friends from that time because they're the ones who've allowed us to heal and to recover and to be where I am and where we - all survivors - are 10 years afterwards.

WERTHEIMER: Kristina Anderson is executive director of the Koshka Foundation. Thank you very much for talking to us.

ANDSERSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.