Back in April, Eubanks spoke about addiction and trauma at a harm reduction summit.
The recent passing of Austin Eubanks, a school shooting survivor who became a vocal advocate for mental health and substance use disorder, was a jarring reminder that recovering from trauma and addiction is a lifelong battle.
Eubanks, who survived the Columbine High School shooting of 1999, turned the traumatic event that unfolded that day—and his ensuing battle with addiction—into a calling to help others.
In April, a little over a month before his untimely passing, Eubanks spoke at the Kentucky Harm Reduction Summit. “We live in a culture today that is ill-equipped to address emotional pain in a healthy fashion,” he told attendees, USA Today reported.
Jeff Howard, the director of the Kentucky Department of Public Health, helped bring Austin to the summit to speak about addiction.
“It’s an unbelievably heartbreaking scenario, just incredibly sad,” said Howard. “Frankly, it reinforces the message: Even when people seem like they have it together, you have to understand that this disease is chronic and relapsing.”
Howard mentioned no sign of trouble when he saw Austin at the summit. “For those who suffer from this disorder, it’s a constant battle day in and day out. It’s a lesson to us all, that even when someone seems well, they still need our support.”
Just this year, Austin had already attended speaking engagements in Florida, Vermont, Georgia, Connecticut and more, with future engagements in Idaho, Iowa and Arizona planned for the summer.
Eubanks died some time last weekend, found in his home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He was 37 years old. While the cause of death has not yet been determined, his family released a statement saying that Austin “lost the battle with the very disease he fought so hard to help others face.”
The Littleton community, where Columbine High School is located, recently marked the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shooting in April. Then, in early May, there was another shooting at Highlands Ranch STEM School, just a 15-minute drive from Littleton.
“It’s incredibly difficult to find hope when this kind of thing keeps happening,” said Zachary Cartaya, 38, a former classmate of Austin’s. Cartaya, too, struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts after the shooting. He has since co-founded The Rebels Project, connecting trauma survivors with each other and with professional counseling.
A supportive community can lift up someone who is going through it alone. People like Austin, who even years later are living with horrific trauma, need support. “Here’s someone 20 years later who had all these demons and was taken as a result,” said Frank DeAngelis, the principal of Columbine at the time.