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Carlsbad childhood shooting survivor earns distinguished scholarship for activism

Sage Creek High School senior, Alahna Woodburn, is using her voice on healing trauma to help survivors of sex trafficking.

CARLSBAD, Calif. — More than 10 years ago, a gunman opened fire on Kelly Elementary School in Carlsbad, one of his victims included a second-grade student.

Since that shooting, Alahna Woodburn said she’s used her voice and words to heal from that trauma.

“That memory is very vivid in my mind,” said Woodburn. “I can remember it like it was yesterday. I can remember the shirt I wore, I remember the game I was playing and the friends I was playing with but I couldn't tell you what I did the day before that or the day before that.”

The 18-year-old said it wasn’t until she was older when she started reading articles about what happened did she start peeling back the layers of trauma. To help herself heal she wrote poems in middle schools. In 2019, she spent “The Day in the Hall of Justice” with now District Attorney Summer Stephan where she learned about the troubling sex trafficking industry and victims in San Diego.

“There is a lack of conversation happening surrounding sex trafficking especially in San Diego, even though we are a hot spot,” said Woodburn.

Alahna said the triggers may be different but there’s a shared trauma. She feels with the movement behind stopping gun violence she has the support but the same can’t be said for sex trafficking survivors.  

“I can't imagine if I had to go through my whole healing process alone. So I feel like it's almost an obligation to do what I can to help uplift their voices up,” said Woodburn.

The track and field athlete pivoted her message of mindfulness and self-advocacy to focus on helping sex trafficking survivors in her blog and Instagram.

Her efforts caught the attention of the National Society of High School Scholars. Out of 500 applicants she was one of the five who received a $1,000 Activism and Advocacy scholarship.

“I was shocked but I was really excited because it meant that what I'd written did resonate with someone. There is meaning to this,” said Woodburn.

Alahna said her story is not about being a gun violence survivor but persevering through the trauma.

“I think it's important to uplift those voices and spread education and awareness because once that conversion starts it can really help survivors and their healing process,” said Woodburn.

The Sage Creek High School senior is planning to attend Cal State Long Beach or UC Irvine to study criminal justice and advocating for exonerations.

RELATED: Workers hailed for halting school shooting at Kelly Elementary