DENVER — The Columbine school shooting in 1999 is often referred to as a watershed moment.
Since then, more than 311,000 kids have been exposed to gun violence in schools during school hours, according to an analysis from the Washington Post.
The Denver North High School shooting is not on that list.
Because the shooting never happened. Because a student by the name of Aaron Stark did not choose to act on his rage against the world.
“In 1996, I was really depressed. I was homeless. I had grown up in a really dark and violent family and I internalized that,” said Stark.
“I was told I was the monster a lot. I was told I was worthless. I was told I was nothing and when you’re told that enough, you’ll try to be the best monster you can be.”
Stark first shared his story in a 2018 open letter titled, “I was almost a school shooter.”
He says after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School shooting in Parkland, Florida claimed the lives of 17 people, he felt compelled to let the world know something he had never shared with anyone previously.
“I was going to attack either the mall food court down the street or my school,” said Stark in a recent sit-down conversation with Scripps National Correspondent Dan Grossman.
“The point of my attack wasn’t going to be to attack the students. It wasn’t going to be to attack the school. That was the damage that was going to be caused. The point of my attack was to make my parents deal with creating a monster."
Stark says after years of bullying in school and abuse at home, he had enough and had planned to shoot up Denver’s North High School when he was 17. He had planned to get a gun from a classmate and bring it to school and kill as many people as he could before he killed himself.
The shooting never happened, though, because only days before the attack was set to take place, Aaron stopped by the home of a good friend who, unaware of Aaron’s plan, invited him inside his home for a meal after seeing the rough shape he was in.
He fed him, consoled him, and Aaron’s friend told him he was a good kid in a bad world.
Those words forced Aaron off the ledge he had built.
“I had never had anything like that. I had never had anybody in my entire world validate my existence with that kind of passion,” said Stark.
“I looked at this kid [who committed the Uvalde school shooting] and he committed one of the worst possible actions you could ever even contemplate. He shot a whole school of school children and all I saw when I looked at that story was I saw me 30 years ago. I saw the pain that I was going through. I saw the depression I was in. I saw the self-harm."
"I think that both sides right now are looking at mental health and gun control and no one is looking at the pain. I think at the bottom of it is a whole generation of kids in pain trying to figure out how to rationalize that pain and deal with it. We need to pull them back into the light and show them that they’re people. I thought that I was invisible. And to be seen and acknowledged in that kind of way, it will literally change your life, and it’s the simplest, easiest thing. It costs nothing to be kind. It costs nothing to be nice.”
After sharing his story for the first time, Stark has served as a guest speaker at schools, conferences, and mental health workshops.
He has also started the Facebook page YouAreNotAlone, which boasts more than 2,600 members as it provides emotional support and community for people who face similar challenges as him.
In the four years it has been up and running, the Facebook page has helped many others overcome their own traumas.
As for Stark, he recently celebrated his 13th wedding anniversary with his wife, Becky, and their four kids.
“I am in the best place I’ve ever been in,” said Stark. “I’m a happy family man. I have 4 wonderful kids and they have gotten to spend their entire lives with not one time having to watch a parent hit another parent, not one time having the police get called because of a fight, and not one time having to move because we were running from the cops. I won. I won at life. My kids are my friends.”