Choosing to Survive: Reflecting on 19 Years Since the Red Lake High School Shooting

Last week, I delivered my “Choosing to Survive” keynote to an audience of FBI and other law enforcement agencies in North Carolina. As I stood before them, detailing the last 19 years of my life, I was struck by an elevated mix of emotions, those that come with an approaching day of remembrance.

March 21, 2005

Never could I have imagined that a seemingly ordinary day at Red Lake High School would transform into a nightmare.

Ninety seconds. That’s all it took for our world to be shattered by violence.

Ninety seconds. That’s all it took to forever alter the course of many lives.

Aftermath: Life Altered Forever

What is it like to be a victim of a school shooting? I went to school that day as “Missy Dodds, math teacher,” and when I got home, that person was gone. In her place was a person I did not know – a victim, a broken, frozen shell of my former self.

In the aftermath of the shooting, I was thrust into a whirlwind of trauma, grief, and uncertainty. I grappled with emotions I couldn’t comprehend, I battled with numbness, guilt and loss.

For years, I struggled to find my footing in a world that had been irrevocably altered. The road to healing was long and arduous, marked by setbacks and challenges. I questioned my faith, my purpose, and my very existence. But through therapy, support, and sheer determination, I did the work, and slowly but surely, I began to heal.

During this initial healing, I became a mother. This gift was a turning point in the aftermath as it sparked a newfound sense of purpose within me. I couldn’t change the past, but I could work to help shape the future.

Becoming a Survivor: Finding My Voice

Then, I was given another gift: the opportunity to share my story in the Red Lake” documentary. While reconnecting with my students for the project, I realized that not all of me had died that day. With that, I found a deeper sense of inner peace and validation, and I became a survivor.

Becoming an Advocate: Using My Voice

Walking into school on March 21, 2005, I didn’t know my life journey would lead me here–to the school safety table. However, once I started to find my voice, I knew I could then use it to advocate for change. I wanted to ensure that no one else had to endure the pain and suffering we experienced that day.

In addition to motherhood and participating in the “Red Lake” documentary–incredible gifts that truly helped me transition from feeling like a victim to becoming a survivor–I have received other gifts that have helped me question, research, and redefine how I viewed “safety”. 

Through Safe and Sound Schools, I realized that physical safety alone was not enough, and I explored the complexities of a comprehensive approach across all areas, including: operations, communications, reunification, media, recovery, leadership, law, policy, culture, climate, and community.

I found my passion in mental and behavioral health, recognizing the importance of addressing these needs alongside physical safety. I was introduced to Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management (BTAM), learning about pathways to violence and the factors that contribute to trauma in today’s youth. I realized that prevention is key, and that we must use our time, talent, and treasure to support our children and communities.

Are We There Yet?

Through this reflection, I’m struck by how far we’ve come—and how far we still have to go. Our journey to making schools safer is ongoing, much like my own journey of recovery. We know what needs to be done, but are we willing to take action?

As we mark this 19th day of remembrance, I have two asks of you:

The first is for my Red Lake Family and Babies, we are still working towards a way to honor all of the lives lost and forever changed on March 21, 2005. The community is coming together today for a healing ceremony and a Walk of Remembrance. We are also raising funds for a permanent memorial that will honor those we lost and allow those who survived a place to heal. If you are interested in learning more about these efforts, please reach out or visit the 3.21.05 Memorial Fund’s Facebook page for more information. 

My other ask is for all of our children and teachers, and for our future generations of students and teachers. They deserve the safest, most supportive learning environments possible. We must be relentless in our pursuit of safe and sound schools, healthier communities, and brighter futures for all.

Let us never forget the lessons of March 21, 2005—that even in our darkest moments, there is hope, there is resilience, and there is the power to choose survival.

Missy Dodds is a survivor of the Red Lake High School Shooting. She is a speaker and trainer for Safe and Sound Schools. To view Missy’s keynote programming, or to book her as a speaker for your next event, please visit this page and fill out the form at the bottom.