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Columbine Teacher’s Daughter Tries To Understand What Drives People To Be Violent

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DENVER (CBS4) – Dave Sanders is remembered as a hero who helped students at Columbine High School get away from the gunmen who started shooting inside the Jefferson County school on April 20, 1999.

By the time they were done they would take the lives of 12 students, and teacher Dave Sanders, and turn the guns on themselves.

“We were a regular family. My dad was a teacher and my mom stayed at home,” said Coni Sanders.

Dave’s daughter Coni remembers when her life became anything but regular. Her father and the school where he worked was little-known to the nation, but that would all change.

Coni Sanders (credit: CBS)

Coni Sanders (credit: CBS)

“Then on April 20th he left us,” said Coni.

With the 15 year mark since the shooting coming up this weekend, Coni, who was 24 when the shooting happened, took some time with CBS4 to remember her father.

“He was just a wonderful man,” said Coni. “He was so great about wanting to help kids, that’s really where his heart was, helping people,” said Coni.

Dave helped hundreds of students out of the path of danger by guiding them out of the school’s cafeteria. It was empty before the gunmen entered.

He also went upstairs to help students who were hiding but he was met by one of the gunmen.

Dave Sanders (credit: Coni Sanders)

Dave Sanders (credit: Coni Sanders)

“He was in the right place at the right time because had he not been there hundreds of students could have been killed,” said Coni.

Since her father was murdered, she has spent many years trying to understand what drives people to be violent.

“I decided I have to do this. I have to help the people committing the crimes,” said Coni. “I want to work with the problem.”

Coni is a forensic therapist working with violent offenders and the mentally ill. She said with the resources many acts of violence are preventable. Her work has become her own therapy.

“What I love about it is when you don’t judge someone and you just sit with them as a person, you don’t talk about their crime but who they are. They’re people, just people. People that make mistakes. People that have been hurt. People that are wounded and it doesn’t excuse by any means what they did but it helps explain it and prevent it,” said Coni.

Coni wonders if she could have helped the gunmen who killed her father and 12 students.

“To talk about victim empathy. What’s the impact of their crime. Whose life has changed. How did they gain the power to change someone’s life for the negative.”

I feel like for every person that I help I may be preventing a victim,” said Coni.

Coni also teaches victim advocates across the country. Her work teaches those advocates how to best help victims who are so wounded and also in the spotlight because of a high profile crime.

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