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"How do you explain the inexplicable?" Denver reporter reflects on 20+ years of mass shootings

Chris Vanderveen began his career covering the Columbine High School shooting. Another shooting nearly caused him to cut his career short.

MINNEAPOLIS — The day after yet another mass shooting in the United States brought a mix of familiar emotions to the forefront. It's a sadness and frustration that many people in Colorado know all too well.

"It's just unnervingly familiar, I think that's the best way to put it," said Chris Vanderveen, director of reporting for KUSA TV in Denver. "How do you explain the inexplicable? It doesn't make sense."

On Monday, Vanderveen helped coordinate KUSA's coverage of the most recent mass shooting to impact the state and country. A gunman killed 10 people, including a police officer, at a King Sooper's grocery store in Boulder. 

"We have a problem in Colorado that is also an American problem," Vanderveen said. "We have these moments, these dark moments in our state's history now, where people can decide that they are going to go into a building and kill people and it's not that hard to do. We need to own this."

Chris, who grew up in Denver and went to college in Boulder, says reporting on mass shootings in his home state nearly ended his career for good nine years ago.

"The morning after the Aurora theater shooting in 2012 was the first time in my life that I woke up and I didn't want to cover the news," Vanderveen said. "At that point I had already gone through Columbine as a reporter, when I was in Colorado Springs, and so everything sort of felt frighteningly similar."

He says the only thing that seemed to change was the attention each of the successive shootings has received.

"It's interesting, when Columbine happened there were months of coverage. When the theater shooting happened here there were about two weeks of coverage," Vanderveen said. "Today, there's going to be about two days of coverage and then we'll move on. We have a really short attention span now. It happens over and over and over again and yet... nothing changes."

Despite his frustration, Chris says the shootings have shown him that change is possible, it's just not easy or sudden.

"There's not one piece of legislation that is going to fix this," he said. "We have a lot of practice in the state of Colorado of looking back and saying what could have changed, and it's not just one thing."

For example, he says Colorado shootings have led to meaningful changes for first responders and journalists covering mass shooters.

"#NoNotoriety (for shooters) is a big deal in newsrooms now, and it happened because of the Aurora theater shooting," Vanderveen said. "Officers run into buildings now because of what happened in Columbine high school in 1999. That changed the way that we look at mass shootings and it was one of those moments for police officers where they are now trained to run in."

Boulder Police officer Eric Talley used that training during the King Soopers shooting on Monday. He died trying to save others.

"This officer, with seven children, ran into a grocery store where you could still hear gunfire," Vanderveen said. "Imagine the courage that it takes to do that."

Now, he says, imagine if we all had the courage to change.

"I think mentally, that's how I get through this," Vanderveen said. "We're not going to stop this completely from happening but maybe we can do incremental changes to make sure these things don't happen with such regularity. 

"This is a Colorado problem and this is an American problem at the same time and if we all sort of come together and realize that, I think we'll have a better chance of combating it."

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