• Zach Cartaya is a survivor of 1999's Columbine school shooting in Littleton, CO.
  • Cartaya's nonprofit helps survivors with mental health and says they may feel guilt after shootings. 
  • Cartaya told Insider the "public health crisis" of guns in this country needs to be addressed. 

On Tuesday, 21 people – 19 of whom were children – were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The shooting is the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in which 27 were killed in 2012.

Survivors like Zach Cartaya, who lived through the 1999 Columbine High school shooting in Littleton, Colorado, are speaking out about tragic school shootings that are becoming more commonplace in the United States.

As a survivor and co-founder of The Rebels Project, a non-profit that provides survivors with mental health resources, Cartaya told Insider that survivors "just kind of keep reliving the unthinkable."

"It's so hard because, first of all, there's always a person in you that snaps back [to] that day it had happened to you," Cartaya said. "And then on top of that, unfortunately, you just kind of keep reliving the unthinkable — for all the people that have gone through this in the 23 years since Columbine."

Cartaya, who was trapped in his high school for three hours during the shooting, said the trauma affected him well into his adult life and he still deals with the repercussions to this day. 

"The last time this happened was really Sandy Hook," Cartaya said. "And Sandy Hook impacted me so deeply and I didn't know what to do with it — and I frankly still don't — and I'm gonna need some help after this. And the reason that it hit me is that survivor's guilt is such a tricky demon to wrestle with. You know, for me, all I could think about after Sandy Hook was 'how in God's name did I…why was I allowed to live?'" 



There have been 119 school shootings since 2018 and 26 school shootings this year alone. In 2021, 34 shootings occurred.

Cartaya said he does not have children of his own as a "conscience decision" because of the state of the world. He said, however, that he has six godchildren. 

"The thought of any of them … going to school tomorrow is horrifying to me," Cartaya told Insider. "And I'm probably a little lucky because that's not my call and not my choice, you know, that's the choice of their parents."


Cartaya said his non-profit helps those who are both Republican and Democrat because there are "as many survivors on the right of guns" as "survivors on the left to guns." 

However, he said that people needed to address "this public health crisis that is our gun culture." Cartaya said that includes implementing background checks for those purchasing guns and overturning the Dickey Amendment, which limited the CDC's ability to research gun violence. 

"It makes me angry that we live in a world that seemingly, at least, vocalizes this value for life, but when put to the test those same people that vocalize it don't want to do anything about this," Cartaya said. 

Read the original article on Insider