NORTHERN Echo journalist Joanna Morris, who was in the classroom at the time of Wilkinson's horrific attack, recalls the day that changed her life forever

"Twenty years on, I still remember everything. From my usual walk to school to washing blood from my face just hours later.

"We were studying trigonometry when Wilkinson burst into our classroom wearing a balaclava, wielding a gun and carrying knives and an axe in his holdall.

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"He ordered our teacher, Graham Nellist, to leave. When he refused, Wilkinson put the gun - later found to be a replica - to the head of a classmate and threatened to shoot.

"Mr Nellist left, raising the alarm as he went. The sound of fire alarms still takes me back to that day, hearing their shrill ring as we were held hostage in classroom E23.

"Waving the gun, Wilkinson ordered us to line up against a wall and began to barricade the door with chairs and tables.

"Media reports from the time say we screamed but I, and others, recall only an eerie silence as we bundled together at the back of the room.

"Ordering the boys to face the wall and the girls to face him, he told us to kneel and close our eyes.

"Pacing back and forth, Wilkinson ranted nonsensically, telling us 'they' had killed him and now he'd kill us.

"I trembled as his boots passed where I knelt, feeling childish for wishing my parents would rescue me.

"I'll never forget the sound his knife made as he attacked my defenceless classmates.

"Nikki, just 12, suffered several stab wounds and died in the corner of that classroom. Michelle Reeve, 13, was left for dead after being stabbed repeatedly. Wilkinson's knife broke as he stabbed 13-year-old Emma Winter, making his way methodically along the line of girls.

The Northern Echo:
INNOCENT VICTIM: Nikki Conroy was 12 when she was stabbed to death in her classroom

"The onslaught stopped when two teachers - Dave Eland and Chris Bielby - bravely fought their way into the room and overpowered him, screaming at us to run.

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SURVIVOR AND HERO: Emma Winter, one of the pupils stabbed that day, talks with Chris Wielby, one of two teachers who overpowered Stephen Wilkinson , in the Nikki Conroy Memorial Garden, in 1999

"Covered in blood, I fled the school, literally running for my life.

"The immediate aftermath is framed in the scrutiny of intense media attention, the comfort of friends and family and the tireless efforts of school staff in helping us back into the classroom.

"In the long term, that day shaped me in a multitude of ways - from my choice of career (recognising the need for responsible, ethical journalism) to where I sit in a pub (I like to know I can get out easily).

"It left me walking a tightrope between anxiety and the desire to live every moment as though it were my last.

"The darkest day of my life took away my childhood but taught me that life is short, people matter and that every moment - no matter how horrific - can eventually yield positivity."