'I knew I would get out alive'

Aaron Hancey knew something was seriously wrong when he saw students suddenly burst into his chemistry room running for safety.

"Then I heard guns and the explosion of bombs," he said, recounting April 20, 1999, when two fellow students walked through the halls of Columbine High School in Colorado on a shooting and killing spree.

Most days, Aaron, then 17, would have been in the choral room during this hour. But knowing he would miss several classes to perform with the choir that afternoon, he received permission to spend the time completing an assignment in the chemistry lab.

"I was just getting started," he said. "There were a few other students studying when people suddenly came running into the room."

A teacher who had been monitoring the halls, ducked into the classroom and told them to take cover. A second teacher, Kent Friesen, followed soon after and began locking the doors, then disappeared into the hallway.

Crouched on the floors of the science rooms which are located just around the corner from the library where much of the destruction occurred, Aaron could feel the building shake with each explosion.

It was instant calamity and confusion, "an unbelievable mixture of emotions," he said.

Mr. Friesen, who had been dashing through the hallway directing students away from the area, returned to Aaron's classroom and asked with a shaky, tension-strained voice if anyone knew how to apply first aid.

"Someone needed help, and I had the training," Aaron said, volunteering more out of instinct than reason.

He leaped to the doorway and stood next to Mr. Friesen. After carefully peering in both directions, they dashed 20-feet across the hallway to another science room. They made their way from classroom to classroom, wending their way through back doors that linked the science classrooms.

Running into science room 3, Aaron gasped when he saw a teacher, Dave Sanders, lying on his side in a pool of blood.

As an Eagle Scout and a priest in the Columbine 1st Ward, Columbine Colorado Stake, Aaron had felt it important to learn first aid skills. "I felt prepared," he said. "I had cared for cuts and bruises, but I never expected to use major first aid skills like this."

By the time Aaron arrived, Mr. Sanders had pulled himself from the doorway to shield himself from another possible attack, and had fallen near the desk of a student. With the assistance of the student, Aaron followed first aid procedure and found the teacher was breathing. He then noticed gun shot wounds to each shoulder.

"Dad, we need some help," Aaron said when he called his home about a half an hour later from a phone in the science room. With the assistance of his father, who was able to create a conference call with an emergency dispatcher, Aaron described the circumstances.

At one point, knowing Mr. Sanders was in great pain, Aaron reached into the man's pocket to pull pictures of the man's family from his wallet. By drawing attention to the teacher's wife and children, Aaron hoped to comfort him and fortify his will to survive.

Much of what took place during the 31/2 hour siege is lost in the subconscious, Aaron said. He knew guns were going off nearby. He was aware that the teenage gunmen had shot out the glass in the door right beside his door. And he knew that the gunmen had thrown a Molotov cocktail into a nearby storage room. He was aware of the deafening sound of the fire alarm that rang continuously throughout the ordeal. He felt the building shake with the explosion of bombs. He was warned as a gunman walked passed his room while reloading.

But through it all, "I zoned out most of the sounds," he said, explaining how he concentrated on being positive and making pleasant conversation with Mr. Sanders, while at the same time, trying to console the approximately 50 students who were huddled in the corner of the classroom.

"There was a sense of constant commotion. It seemed that time was passing in slow and fast motion at the same time."

While the strain of the ordeal showed on the faces of many of his classmates in the room, Aaron relied on prayer — silent and earnest — to draw strength. "Prayer definitely helped sustain me," he said. "I also remembered my patriarchal blessing and I knew I would get out alive."

The science room where Aaron was applying first aid was the second to the last room evacuated by police SWAT teams. Despite the hours of strain, Aaron offered to stay with the teacher, but was instructed by a SWAT team member to leave for his safety. Mr. Sanders died shortly afterward.

For his valor, Aaron was awarded the Honor Medal with Crossed Palms, the highest lifesaving honor awarded by the Boy Scouts of America, during special ceremonies Sept. 25, 1999. He was one of five who was honored for bravery during the crisis.

During these ceremonies, William Beck, of the then-Columbine 1st Ward, now the Columbine 7th Ward after a recent division, Columbine Colorado Stake, was awarded the Honor Medal for the "meritorious action" of "providing an advanced warning of the shootings to many students in the cafeteria. Will was outside when the shooting started and instead of fleeing, he chose to re-enter the school," said David Ross, of the Boy Scouts of America's National Court of Honor who presented the awards.

"If it weren't for his actions, many more students would have been in the cafeteria, unaware of the situation."

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