Columbine: A Symbol of Hope, Recovery, and Progression

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Columbine: A Symbol of Hope, Recovery, and Progression

Emily Dozier, Staff Writer

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It was the first time a school shooting had been nationally broadcast. The massacre at Columbine High School sparked the nation’s first real discussion of gun control, mental health, and school safety. It changed the way America views the safety of its students, and 20 years later, the community still feels the weight of the tragedy’s aftermath.

April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered the high school in Littleton, Colorado, around 11 am. Attacking the cafeteria and library, twelve students and one teacher were killed, leaving 24 others injured. After a 45 minute rampage, the former students turned the guns around, killing themselves. Throughout the following years, videos and diaries of the boys were discovered, showing their violent and raging personalities. “The Basement Tapes” as they were known were filled with rants from Harris about his hatred for the world and desire to cause immense devastation, such as the attack in Oklahoma City a few years prior. Failure to acknowledge warning signs, such as journal entries and violent behavior, resulted in “zero-tolerance” rules enacted in schools across the country. Today, Columbine High has some of the strictest security measures in the nation.

When the school reopened in the fall, changes were made to avoid triggers. New fire alarms were installed, bullet holes were covered, lockers repainted, and Chinese food no longer would be served in the cafeteria. Even the sight of camouflage or police cars could cause a flashback for some students. Nothing would be perfect, though. The first day back, a blue and white balloon arch was created to welcome students. No one was prepared for the popping balloons that sent teenagers diving to the ground, screaming at the sounds.

While the library was reconstructed, its renowned green windows stayed; there were no major changes to that fatal site. Administrators decided not to tear down any part of the school building on the precedence that the killers then would have won. Instead, 13 six-foot tall crosses were built on a hill of a nearby park. An official memorial, built around the crosses, was dedicated and opened to the public September 21, 2007.

Two decades later, survivors are still learning to cope with the events of the fateful day. Sean Graves was a freshman in that spring. Shot six times, he faced 49 surgeries, ultimately leaving him partially paralyzed. “They’re still trying to make sense of it. That’s all they can talk about. They’ve never healed and moved on,” says Graves, referring to his coping classmates.

The principal at the time, Frank DeAngelis, knows the community will never fully recover and must work to find a new normal. His book, They Call Me Mr. De, is set to be published around the 20th anniversary of the shooting. In it, he recounts his experience during the shooting and his efforts to help the Littleton community heal. DeAngelis stayed as principal of Columbine for 15 years, until every student in the system at the time was graduated. “Every morning when I wake up, as soon as I get out of bed, I recite the names of my beloved 13,” he says.

Columbine graduates are giving back to the community in their own ways, too. Heather Martin formed “The Rebels Project,” a group that travels to sites of mass shootings to assist those who need it. Craig Scott’s sister Rachel was killed in the midst of gunfire. He now runs a group called “Value Up” that teaches children the importance of respect towards others and one’s self. According to Michelle Wheeler, a preschool teacher in the Denver area, surviving a tragedy such as hers affects the way you raise a child. “The hardest day of my life was sending her to kindergarten.” Wheeler’s daughter is now 13 and continues to learn more about her mother’s trauma as she grows older.

Victims:

Steven Curnow, 14

Daniel Mauser, 15

Daniel Rohrbough, 15

Kelly Fleming, 16

Matthew Kechter, 16

John Tomlin, 16

Kyle Velasquez, 16

Cassie Bernall, 17

Corey DePooter, 17

Rachel Scott, 17

Isaiah Shoels, 18

Lauren Townsend, 18

William “Dave” Sanders, 47

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