Austin Eubanks, a wounded survivor of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre who in later years traversed the country inspiring others to overcome drug addiction, was found dead in his Colorado home on Saturday. He was 37.
Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg told KMGH-TV that authorities found no signs of foul play and that an autopsy would be performed on Monday to determine the cause of death.
In a statement, his family said Eubanks 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,” the statement said. “As you can imagine, we are beyond shocked and saddened and request that our privacy is respected at this time.”
Eubanks, who was shot twice by the two Columbine gunmen who were students at the school and who saw his best friend die before his eyes, battled an opioid addiction for years after the massacre. He became a public speaker on addiction recovery after becoming sober in 2011.
Doctors had prescribed Eubanks an assortment of pills, including opiates, for the injuries he sustained during the shooting and, as he told WTHR-TV in April, “almost immediately, I started medicating that underlying emotional pain.”
Eubanks said he used drugs and alcohol for 12 years to dull the trauma and grief before finding recovery.
“When people ask how I found recovery, I tell them it’s because I... figured out every way that doesn’t work and fortunately I was able to stay alive long enough to do that, which isn’t often the reality today with the toxicity of the substances that are available,” he told WTHR.
Eubanks also opened up last month in an interview with The Associated Press about the fears he has for his two young sons, aged 13 and 9, in this era of active-shooter drills and armed guards at schools.
“We are so unwilling to actually make meaningful progress on eradicating the issue,” Eubanks said. “So we’re just going to focus on teaching kids to hide better, regardless of the emotional impact that that bears on their life. To me, that’s pretty sad.”