ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — One West Michigan community is particularly impacted by the weekend death of a man who survived the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School.
Austin Eubanks, found dead Saturday at his home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, spoke about his recovery from opioid addiction at Rockford High School in October 2017.
“He had a great connection with our kids here at Rockford High School during the Developing Healthy Kids event where he presented,” Dan Zang, principal at Rockford High School, said. “We’re thinking about him and his loved ones, and we’re certainly very, very sad to hear of his passing.”
Eubanks, 37 when he died, was shot in the hand and knee during the massacre at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.
His best friend, who was hiding next to him under a table in the high school library, was killed.
After the shootings, Eubanks became addicted to the opioids doctors prescribed him for pain.
“Because of the emotional pain I was in as a result of the tragedy, I became addicted almost immediately,” explained Eubanks when 24 Hour News 8 interviewed him at Rockford High School.
“If you take an opioid for seven days, there’s a 10% likelihood that you will be addicted to it a year later. That 10% is literally hundreds of thousands of people.”
It took Eubanks a decade to get sober, after which he devoted his life to speaking publicly about addiction recovery.
An autopsy was performed in Colorado on Monday, but authorities have not released a cause of death.
However, his family said in a statement that the father and recovery advocate had “lost the battle with the very disease he fought so hard to help others face… Helping to build a community of support is what meant the most to Austin, and we plan to continue his work.”
Kirsten Myers, former executive director of special services at RPS, brought Eubanks in to speak at the Developing Healthy Kids event.
“I was devastated. Heartbroken,” Myers said of her reaction to Eubanks’ death.
“My first feeling in hearing the news was the struggle is real. I think (overcoming addiction) is a daily struggle,” Myers said, who’s now working to bring programs like Developing Healthy Kids to districts countywide in her new position with Kent Intermediate School District.
Myers recalled that Eubanks clearly spoke from the heart and didn’t hide any of his experiences.
“He led a difficult life… He wanted to impact youth to make decisions that wouldn’t be life-ending… He talked about the importance of resiliency, overcoming trauma, and instead of utilizing substances, making sure you have a network of people around you and reaching out to those who can support you through those journeys.”
Wendy Bubin, whose son, Bobby died of an opioid overdose on Christmas Eve 2016, spoke at the same event Eubanks did back in 2017.
It was the first time she had talked publicly about her son’s death, and she considered Eubanks a mentor in the arena of public speaking.
Bubin said she was initially surprised to learn of his death because she thought he had come so far in his recovery.
“But then the more I thought about it, I thought addiction is such a struggle for so many people, and they struggle day in and day out, and no one really knows the struggle of an addict besides themselves,” Bubin said.