GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas — WFAA hosted a town hall back in 1999 following the mass shooting at Columbine High School. It was a Family First special meant to engage the parents and students at South Grand Prairie High School.
The main auditorium at the campus was filled with parents, students and faculty, according to the district's spokesperson Sam Buchmeyer.
"It was completely full and there was standing room, as well. There was a lot of anxiety, people were really on edge about being in spaces like this," said Buchmeyer.
The shooting in Littleton, Colorado is one of the first of many high-profile school shootings. The shooting prompted conversations in every campus in the country on issues of bullying, depression, drugs, safety and emotional and mental wellness.
"Prior to Columbine, we had never heard of active shooter. Active shooter is part of our vernacular now," said John Matthews, a crime and safety expert with the Community Safety Institute who was also featured on the WFAA special.
South Grand Prairie High School is 800 miles from Littleton, Colorado, but it was evident that what happened at Columbine shattered the collective conscious.
"This is crazy. This will never happen again. I never thought it would happen again," a then-18-year-old Erica Wise thought to herself about the mass shooting. Erica at the time was a senior and in the media tech class. She's now married, lives in Arlington and works in the real estate industry.
WFAA counted 118 school mass shootings alone since 1999. That number fluctuates depending on your definition of a mass shooting. During the 1999 town hall, parents, students and faculty were talking about student resource officers, backpacks and metal detectors.
We are still debating those topics today.
"I literally never would have thought 24 years later I'd be doing this same interview... never," said Matthews.
Matthews said law enforcement has gotten better in its response to active shooters, and the routine training has helped. But, Matthews told WFAA that schools have to constantly evolve because the shooter is evolving.
"I get calls constantly," said Matthews.
Matthews writes and consults on mass shootings now more than ever. The rest of the time is spent with family in his winery and vineyard. "It's a total juxtaposition to the rest of my life. It's my therapy," he said.
Changes have even been made at South Grand Prairie High School. There are now double doors with controlled access. All non-student traffic is directed straight into the school office.
"How can you retire when you think you can help and save lives?" Matthews said.