Short Film Released Ahead of Columbine Anniversary Links Causes of Death for Children: Cancer and Gun Violence

‘American Cancer Story’ was released ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, in which 13 innocent people were killed 25 years ago

<p>Taking Over Films / Klick Health</p>

Taking Over Films / Klick Health

'American Cancer Story'

Twenty-five years ago, an unimaginable tragedy rocked the suburban community of Littleton, Colo. — and the nation. On April 20, 1999, students and staff arrived at Columbine High School for what they believed was just another school day. But what would happen later that morning would change the lives of many for years to come.

The massacre began a little after 11 a.m., when two teenage gunmen opened fire at their high school, killing 12 students and one teacher, and injuring 24 others. The shooters subsequently died by suicide in the school library.

At the time of the attack, it was the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, but since then, other school shootings, like the massacres at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, and Texas’ Robb Elementary School in 2022, have claimed more lives.

Related: 1999 Columbine Massacre Still Haunts School Principal: 'They Will Always Be My Kids'

Ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Columbine shooting, Change the Ref (CTF) released a 90-second short film titled American Cancer Story, which “links gun violence and pediatric cancer in an emotional storyline about a young girl who beats cancer only to face a school shooting,” a press release shared with PEOPLE states.

<p>Taking Over Films / Klick Health</p> 'American Cancer Story'

Taking Over Films / Klick Health

'American Cancer Story'

CTF is an organization that encourages youth leadership and uses art to inspire people to work to end the gun violence epidemic in the U.S., its website says.

According to the latest data from the CDC, gun violence became the leading cause of death for children and teens in 2021, accounting for almost 19 percent of fatalities — more than car accidents or pediatric cancer, CNN reported.

According to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among children.

<p>Taking Over Films / Klick Health</p> 'American Cancer Story'

Taking Over Films / Klick Health

'American Cancer Story'

The film was directed and written by José Padilha, known for his work on the Netflix original series Narcos and the 2014 film RoboCop. It also features an original score written by Maroon 5 founding member and lead guitarist James Valentine, who said in the release that he was “drawn to this project because I've been concerned about these two issues for a very long time.”

For Patricia and Manuel Oliver, co-founders of CTF, the film’s message hits close to home. Their son, 17-year-old Joaquin "Guac" Oliver, was one of 17 people killed in the mass shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

“These are two important issues that we are confronting,” Patricia, who also appears in the film as a teacher, said in the release.

Manuel added, “This is not about gun violence versus cancer; this is gun violence in alliance with cancer. How can we prevent both of them? Because a victim is a victim, and every father and mother who loses a child goes through the same pain.”

<p>CTF</p> Patricia Manuel (left) in 'American Cancer Story'


Patricia Manuel (left) in 'American Cancer Story'

Patricia and Manuel previously opened up to PEOPLE about their pain and how they turned it into activism.

Related: Parents of Parkland Shooting Victim Unveil N.Y.C. Mural Honoring Lives Lost 1 Year Ago

“I told them, ‘We are allowed to cry. We are allowed to be sad. We are allowed to scream. But we have to do something about it,’” Patricia told PEOPLE in 2019. “Whatever we do, we have to be outside because nothing is going to happen if we’re in here, in our room, crying and grabbing a pillow.”

Missy Mendo, then a 14-year-old freshman who survived the Columbine massacre, tells PEOPLE that she did not have a "normal" high school experience following the shooting and is still dealing with the horrific memories 25 years later.

"I feel like each anniversary is different," Mendo, now 39, says. "It depends on what's going on in my life situationally, but genuinely around April 1st is where you're starting to make human errors that you don't traditionally make, and it almost feels like a roller coaster that's going up and up and up, and it just never goes down."

The film’s website asks viewers to share the project and demand urgent change from politicians and lawmakers. It is also raising funds for 10 pediatric cancer charities and is running as a public service announcement on a variety of television networks, per the release.

<p>Taking Over Films / Klick Health</p> 'American Cancer Story'

Taking Over Films / Klick Health

'American Cancer Story'

Referencing the short film, Padhila said it was one of the most impactful projects he’d ever directed.

“I hope it strikes a chord with everyone so we can help change the story for children in America.”

To watch the short film, visit

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Read the original article on People.