Columbine speaker Debbie Phillips (front and centre) gathers at the Evangelical Free Church of Erskine with Janessa Wittenberg (left)

Columbine victim’s aunt shares her story in region

With many fatal school shootings in recent years, Alix and Erskine youths received insight into such tragedies

With many fatal school shootings in recent years, Alix and Erskine youths received insight into such tragedies during school and community presentations last week.

An aunt of a victim of the Columbine School in Middleton, Col., 14 years ago shared her story last week during a central Alberta visit.

“It’s our job to correct things in our community — it’s not totally up to government,” said Debbie Phillips, who spoke at Alix MAC School to grades 6 to 12 students and in Erskine at the Evangelical Free Church on her first trip to Canada under her ministry, Life Choices.

She inspired the audience with her story of the powerful impact that her niece, Rachel Joy Scott, had on her school, family and community before the 17-year-old Grade 11 student died as the first of 13 victims in the shootings on April 20, 1999.

“The community should know the local church is the place for help,” said Phillips, who travelled from her home in Indiana to share the story of a young woman who demonstrated her Christian faith to reach out to specially touch many of her colleagues in the school of 21,000 students with her love and kindness.

“Smile, encourage one another (and) give a hug. People should be better because of you.

“If you see evil in your community, assume it is your responsibility to eliminate it, through prayer or otherwise.”

Phillips also urged people to pray for youths in their community and to get the names of students in local schools and have a prayer walk around the campuses.

Just as her niece left a lasting legacy in her school and community, she encouraged youths and others to follow that model.

“The biggest message is that when you die, what will be said about your life?

“Will you be remembered for being part of the solution or for the problems you caused — you’re important.”

Scott was targeted because of her Christian faith, her aunt said.

Phillips was invited to the region by Alix school vice-principal Marc Bratt, while band teacher Joanne Henry encouraged her to speak in her home church in Erskine.

“I recognize today’s youth need to hear good-news messages of hope and that they can become what they would like to be,” Bratt said.

“If they hear the same message with a different voice, sometimes they respond differently.”

With the growing use us social media that often leads to unhealthy choices and actions, he said youth need to be directed along the right path.

“So we need to be proactive as a community and parents, to bring presentations like this that promote hope and care for one another,” Bratt said.

Alix students were moved by the message.

“What inspired them most was that they didn’t realize that what they said has effect on others,” said Henry, who listened to the youths afterward.

“And they need to speak kind words to others, because you don’t know what others are going through.”

For the Erskine minister, the message was life-changing.

“The remarkable part of her story is that it’s not how long we live, but how we live — a short life is not consequential,” Pastor Ross Helgeton said.

For more information on the presentation, or to watch the videos, visit

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