We Are Columbine

Where were you on that April day? Where were you when you heard that the apocalypse had come to a mild Denver suburb on a beautiful spring day?I was on my way back from a doctor's appointment on Colorado Boulevard,in Denver. As usual, I had the radio tuned to an all news station (in the days before I became addicted to Sirius radio). As I headed southeast to my home in the suburbs, I was suddenly pushed aside by ambulances heading southwest, and the radio announcer began to talk about something happening at Columbine High School; imploring parents to stay away from the site since they would only interfere with the police response.

By the time I got home, it was all over the TV, and I spent the first afternoon of many, many days watching the horror unfold. The two images that will stay with me forever are the children running from the school with arms above their heads, fleeing the danger, and Patrick Ireland, the boy in the window, dangling from the window of the school's library, falling into the arms of rescuers.

Later, I learned that a coworker's daughter had been on Harris' hit list because she had turned him down for a date and become a "jock" in her high school days. He shot at her but, fortunately, missed.

After that day, Denver became a media circus. We received calls from everyone we knew all over the country, asking if it was close to us, if we knew anyone, how we felt.

How we felt was how every parent felt -- lucky that it was not our child or our child's school, although it could easily have been. Our daughter's high school was not much different than Columbine; overwhelmingly white, divided by cliques according to interests, or intelligence, or athletic prowess. Our daughter's friends were mostly good kids, theater kids, but there were one or two that could have mirrored Klebold and Harris, and on that day, we thanked our stars that she was out of state at a faraway college. We did not thank our stars, two years later, when her choice of residence put her within sight of the Twin Towers, but that is another memory.

On the day of Columbine, we heard people like us, like our neighbors, like our friends, cry for the loss of their children and for the safety of their children and we wondered how could a bucolic suburb like Littleton breed killers like Harris and Klebold?

After the fact, my job working for the Library for the Blind brought me into contact with several of the Columbine families, trying to restore their children's lives. They were nice people, no more heroic than you or I, but faced with an overwhelming challenge and meeting it with all the courage and heart they could muster. They kept on keeping on, and earned my admiration.

I would like to recommend to you a book called Columbine by Dave Cullen. It is an amazingly comprehensive and readable tome on the murders, the reasons, the screw-ups, and the aftermath. Although it is hundreds of pages long, I read it in two days of continuous reading, finding it as compelling and intriguing as any murder mystery. Cullen, a writer for Salon and a former writer for the Denver Post, has synthesized thousands of pages of documentation; delved into the psychosis of the murderers, particularly Eric Harris; pointed fingers at the scoundrels, especially the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department; dispells the myths, such as Cassie Bernall's testimony of faith at her death; and follows up with the survivors. I was overjoyed to hear that Patrick Ireland is now married and continues his life, changed but strong.

The one point that I would take issue with is that Cullen exonerates the school's principal, Frank DiAngeli, something that many of us would not do. There were too many red flags that were missed by the school and a principal who knows the names of 2000 children, but not that he has murderers among them, does not deserve a pass.

The children of Columbine have a cheer. It is a rhythmic, "WE ARE... COL-UM-BINE. In the days following the murders, when Columbine became a descriptor for murder and mayhem, the whole Denver area took up their cheer. We were all Columbine, united in our grief and sorrow; together in our mourning for young lives lost and a dedicated teacher cut down. We were all confused and saddened and terrified in those tragic days after the shootings.

Another thing I remember is that, on April 21, it snowed. This isn't unusual in Denver (as the weather report today attests to), but on that day it seemed particularly cruel and appropriate. The whiteness covered the scene and blanketed the memorials, while the gray skies mirrored our emotions.

I no longer live in Denver, so I will not share it. At twelve years, the survivors are adults and, I hope, most have moved on with their lives and made the best of them. I will remember the day, the hour, and the event for the rest of my life.

Writer Lois Rubin Gross wrote this piece on the 10th anniversary of the Columbine shootings.  She updated it this year for her blog and for WWN.

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