Virginia Tech shooting survivor shares her story

Kristina Anderson spoke on school safety during a presentation at Burlington Township High School

Kristina Anderson was 19 years old when she was shot three times in her college French class at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Since then, she has dedicated her life to sharing her story and speaking on school safety.

On Oct. 18, Anderson came to speak at Burlington Township High School as part of the school’s Falcon Parent University series. The school partnered with the New Jersey Department of Education to deliver this special program on school safety.

Superintendent Mary Ann Bell began the presentation by talking about safety at BTHS.

“Safety is near and dear to all of our hearts here in Burlington Township,” Bell said.

Se also spoke on the efforts of the district to keep the students, staff and visitors safe.

“We recognize that no one thing and no one person will do just that,” Bell said. “We have come to understand that safety is something for which we always strive and something not to be taken for granted.”

Bell went on to discuss the school’s efforts to address mental health awareness in hopes to avoid catastrophes such as the Virginia Tech tragedy. She took time to thank the school resource officers for all that they do to protect the students and staff, and then spoke about the school’s communication efforts — something that Anderson would later say was lacking at Virginia Tech at the time of the shooting.

“There is not much that can happen in Burlington Township without the police and the school district knowing. We thank every person who ever says anything for us because it really matters,” Bell said.

Anderson began her presentation by warning the audience that her story would be very personal, and somewhat scary at times.

She went on to talk about her experience as a freshman student who would ultimately become one of the most critically injured survivors in the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech.

Anderson admitted that when she was a 19-year-old student, she didn’t think much about safety and security.

“I’m always a little shy to admit this with law enforcement in the room, but I would actually hide when the fire marshals would come and do drills,” Anderson said. “Safety and security was the last thing on my mind.”

Anderson spoke highly of her alma mater — she did eventually return to the university and graduate with a degree in International Studies and Foreign Languages — saying how beautiful the campus is and how bonded the students are with the community.

“It is the last place you’d expect something like this to happen,” Anderson said. “All of this fundamentally changed on April 16, 2007.”

On the morning of the shooting, Anderson was running late per usual. She considered skipping class, but ultimately decided to go. She recalled only having time to make one seemingly insignificant decision on that fateful day.

“I noticed the first thing that was strange about that day, that many first responders will later remember, is that it was snowing, it was cold,” Anderson said. “The only decision I made that day — the only thing I had time to think about — is what kind of shoes I was going to wear.”

After leaving her apartment, Anderson met with her friend and classmate Colin Goddard and headed to their French class in Norris Hall — a building that was completely insignificant to her at the time, but would go on to be the location of the massacre.

Anderson pointed out that the building itself was built like a fortress, with heavy doors, thick walls and resilient windows that would prove to be very hard to break. The entire building only had three exits.

Anderson would later find out that she was one of the last people to enter Norris Hall before the perpetrator chained the doors shut, effectively preventing anyone from leaving or entering the building.

After sitting in class for a while, Anderson and her classmates begin to hear gunshots. Before they have the chance to barricade the classroom doors, the shooter enters and begins to open fire.

“The closest thing I can relate it to is almost like an axe being taken to a piece of wood. It felt like a very quick chop, chop, chop, chop,” Anderson said. “It is very quick, it feels very methodical, it feels very intentional.”

Fortunately surviving the attack, Anderson was shot three times. Shockingly, this is the least amount of times any student was shot by the perpetrator. One person was shot 19 times.

Anderson is now the founder and executive director of The Koshka Foundation for Safe Schools. The non-profit organization is dedicated to helping local community and school stakeholders work together in order to prevent, respond and heal in the aftermath of school violence.

Anderson has become a valuable resource to students, teachers and school administrators with her insight on violence prevention and ways to increase personal safety awareness.

Burlington Township High School Director of Human Resources and Community Relations Liz Scott says that Anderson’s presentation reinforced the district’s stance on the importance of building relationships between schools and emergency personnel.

“As a district, we value the collaborative relationship we have with our our emergency responders,” Scott said. “The protocols that we have in place and the drills that we execute consistently are very important.”

Scott added that presentations like Anderson’s are a great way provide the district with firsthand experiences to help it learn and grow.