TWENTY years ago today the country was left reeling when an intruder burst into a classroom in Middlesbrough and stabbed 12-year-old Nikki Conroy to death.

Paranoid schizophrenic Stephen James Wilkinson killed Nikki and seriously injured two of her classmates when he held a maths class hostage at Hall Garth School in 1994.

The Northern Echo:

In a confessional found at the scene, Wilkinson wrote of his desire to destroy young lives, saying: "I imagine the deaths of young maidens slain in a room choked with desks."

Although he tragically succeeded in robbing the world of one bright schoolgirl, the successes of the Hall Garth survivors 20 years on stand in defiance of his twisted ambition.

Wilkinson was convicted of manslaughter and detained for life at a secure hospital.

Here, Nikki's schoolmates share their stories.

Carolyne's story: Ordeal shaped rest of our lives

The Northern Echo:

A childhood friend of Nikki's, Carolyne Morris now works as a teacher in America and is expecting her first child.

The incident at Hall Garth inspired Carolyne's career and taught her to value life.

She said: "That morning I walked to school with Nikki and she walked upstairs to maths saying she'd see me after school.

"Not long later, a teacher ran into our class and told us to get out. We were evacuated to the school field and watched other pupils coming out with bloodstained shirts. We were stuck in a nightmare.

"That day changed us all, it made us grow up so fast. It's only since I've been teaching that I've realised just how young we were to have dealt with something so emotional.

"The way our teachers supported us, protected us and managed the situation, getting us back into school and dealing with pupils sometimes in hysterics had an impact on me and what I wanted to do with my life - I knew I wanted to help kids.

"It also taught me to live life every day because you never know what is going to happen. Nikki and I had been friends since we were seven - one minute she was there and the next she was gone forever.

"Friends and family mean more to me than anything and I make sure they know that."

Cindy's story: I'm proof trauma can be beaten

The Northern Echo:

Radiologist Cindy Rangi says she is proof that trauma can be beaten The incident saw Cindy plunged into a depression that haunted her for years - it also gave her the impetus to live life to the full.

Now a radiologist working at the top of her field, she wants to inspire others to seize the day.

She said: "Going through something as traumatic and life changing as we did means you will end up with psychological issues.

"But what kept me going was that I was lucky to have my life. It would be unjust not to live it.

"Now I have a little girl of my own, life finally makes sense.

"My outlook on the events of 20 years ago is don't live life with regrets, pursue your dreams because you don't know when it all might end.

"People say these things but I'm proof of following through with it."

Sarah's story: With the correct care, it could have been avoided

Forensic nurse Sarah (name changed for professional reasons) believes her work could help prevent other atrocities.

She says: "Something like that never leaves you but it gave me drive and compassion and my work has given me a better understanding of what happened.

"For years I struggled to understand how he could do it but now I see schizophrenia on a daily basis and accept that he was not looked after and slipped through the net.

"People will find it hard to understand but I don't blame him for what we went through, I accept he was ill and question why he was allowed to get so unwell that he could commit such a crime.

"I don't feel sorry for him but I think he was neglected and feel the incident could have been prevented if he had the correct care.

"Now I make sure I never turn a patient away - I fear they could go away and hurt themselves or something could happen that I could have prevented.

"If this incident could bring about anything positive, I'd hope it could bring more awareness of schizophrenia as that could have helped both him and us as we struggled to deal with understanding what happened that day."