Five years ago, I was a freshman at Dakota Ridge High School. On this day, I was, strangely enough, making out with a guy in the hall. It was just after lunch, nearing time for third block to start. (We had block scheduling - three classes one day, three the next.) We heard an announcement over the intercom telling students to continue on to class and not to try and leave the school. We wondered at that, but went on to class. I had health next. We were preparing for a presentation on stds. Thanks to Val, our group had the easy one, aids. Today, we were having groups go up to the library to gather information. Our group was one of the first ones to go.
So, Val, Scott, Jen, and I head upstairs to the library. We’re searching through wonderfully explicit books about sex and the various diseases you can become afflicted with. After awhile, the tv comes on. I go over to put a book back, and look up. A couple of other people are watching. There’s been a shooting at Columbine High School. I pause. They’re showing a picture of the school. I’ve seen that school. That school is here. Remember the Columbine music festival my brother went to? That was there.
This perhaps takes a moment to sink in. I know people that go to Columbine. Friends from church. Who did I know that went to Columbine? I tried to think. Kenny did. Kenny went to Columbine. He became my designated friend to look out for as they showed images on tv. Kids whispered about people they knew as we watched. There were two gunmen, maybe more, and people were trapped inside. They showed kids with their hands over their heads, waiting until police told them it was okay to go, and then running. We watched for a time, and then went back to work. We no longer joked and laughed. We talked about it a little. And then it was time to head back to class.
As we entered the room, it was quiet. Everyone was watching the tv. I looked up as I went to my seat, and then we sat and watched. After a few moments, there was a phone call. The teacher answered it, and then said to me to go down to the office, my mom was there to pick me up. I gathered my things and got up to leave. “Bye,” Val said to me quietly. “Bye...”
My mom was waiting in the hall with my brother Andy, who was a junior. She had heard about the shooting while she was at the gas station. She hurried home to find that it was at Columbine. But she came to get us to be safe, to know that we were there and alright. My younger sister and brother’s schools were on a lockdown. Ours would soon be too. By now it was around 1 o’clock I think. We went out to the parking lot, my brother taking his own car and following us home.
My younger sister and brother were already there. The tv was on, of course. We just sat in front of it. And we watched. On 9/11, I would be reminded of how we sat there, listening as new reports came in, seeing the words across the bottom of the screen. They showed an image of a boy hanging out the library window, police officers and paramedics below. “Oh, catch him...” my mom said. They did. We kept getting all these phone calls from everyone we knew. “Yes, they’re okay,” my mom answered repeatedly. “It’s not their school. They’re here home with me.” Phone calls from everyone.
My siblings went outside to get away from the tv for awhile. Andy was throwing a baseball up in the air so my little brother Steven could practice catching pop flies. One time, he didn’t have his glove quite in the right place, and the ball landed right on his face. So, the three of them come up from the basement, Steven’s nose is bleeding, Andy’s trying to avoid having mom see it. They get him cleaned up. “What happened?” mom asks, when she inevitably finds them. My brother explains. *inno* Mom just shakes her head. Oh wonderful, another thing to deal with. We would look back on that and half-laugh.
I was going through Confirmation that year. Jim, our youth minister, was my group leader. My mom led her own group. She had helped out with Confirmation the year before as well. She had a list of all the kids in Confirmation. It showed their name, their phone number, address, their school. I was looking through it, looking at all the kids who went to Columbine. Kids I knew. My friends Brittney and Nicole, as well as Kenny. Martin, who I had known since I moved here. His twin sister Jill. Michelle. Lots of people...
Our Confirmation class
I’m in the second row, fifth from the right. My friend Joey is right above me, in the grey jacket. He’s in Iraq now.
The walls were covered with banners, posters, and letters we had received from all over.
I would later find that Martin had gotten out safely, while Jill and their older sister were still trapped inside. I could see myself afterwards looking over at Martin in church and giving a little smile. He just looked at me and nodded. Jill would stand up in front of everyone gathered and tell how her class had hid in their room, and how a bullet came flying through, and they thought that the killers were coming for them. My mom couldn’t imagine what their mom must have been going through, as she went to Columbine, police cars blocking off the street, as she learned that two of her kids were still inside.
It really is beautiful.
We decided to go down to the church. It was just a couple miles down the street from Columbine. Alot of the kids had fled there. The main sanctuary was flooded with people, mostly kids, all around the altar. Hugging and crying and talking. I looked for people I knew, and was relieved to see them. What if..? I wondered. Confirmation leaders were checking off the names of Columbine students in their groups as they saw them. All of my group was accounted for. “I’m missing one,” another leader said to my mom. That one was Danny Mauser.
I never knew him personally. I couldn’t recall a specific instance where I had seen him. Though later, Jim would give his parents the letter he had written, as each of us had written, one night in the church as a part of the Confirmation program. I remember I had written mine on the edge of the baptisimal font, and had sprinkled it with holy water. It seemed hard to imagine that one of the kids in the church that night, in the room with us every Sunday that we met would be gone in months, in weeks. It could have been any of us. I can remember looking across the church at his parents, at his younger sister, each of the following Sundays. They looked so.. drained...
Our Confirmation retreat was scheduled for sometime in the coming weeks. We had planned to go spend the weekend up in the mountains, but with everything that happened, we thought it would be best to hold it at the church instead. That way the kids could go home at the end of each day, and parents wouldn’t have to worry about them being so far. During the retreat, I had one of the most amazing spiritual experiences. It makes me glad that we did hold it here.
One of the letters I was given
The church received so many that they gave some to each of the kids in the LifeTeen program.
Back in the church, I met with all the people that I knew. I listened to the words being spoken around me, in that crowd of people. Michelle was there. She was crying. “Short little Isaiah died,” she said to one of her friends through tears. “They shot him because he was black.” I cried for the first time, with my mom beside me. “I feel bad for Michelle,” I said. I wanted to give her a hug. My mom tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention, and she turned around. I hugged her.
The rest of that day and the next was more watching the news. They eventually listed out the victims who had died, and many more had been injured. It was labeled the worst school shooting in U.S. history, and overnight Littleton, Colorado went from “that town just southwest of Denver” to the site of a massacre. We didn’t have school until Thursday. When I arrived, the mood was somber. One of my friends asked me if I knew anyone that went to Columbine. I merely nodded. I wondered what it would be like if a shooting took place here. It would be so easy to trap kids in the main hall, a kid with a gun on either end. They could throw pipe bombs from the hallway which overlooked it. It could be wicked.
The band, orchestra, and choir were scheduled to go on a trip to Anaheim that weekend for a national competition and a few days of fun. At first, I didn’t want to go. I felt like I should be here. But, the majority of us agreed that we should go as we’d planned. We each wore blue and silver ribbons when we performed, and dedicated it to those at Columbine. It seemed as though I would be fine. But, at the awards ceremony held at a private place at Disneyland, things just became too much.
I had felt a little weird as we were walking through the park. Maybe it was just the amount of people. It was dark, and I was holding my friends’ hands as we made our way through the crowd so we wouldn’t lose each other. We finally got to where the ceremony would be held. I stayed back a bit and found my mom, who was a chaperone for the trip. It was cold, since I was in shorts. My mom offered me her jacket, and I took it. We listened into the ceremony, and I was fine.. until they had a moment of silence for those who died at Columbine. Perhaps the weight of it just hit me then. I started crying, just burst into tears. My mom hugged me. Someone must have asked what was wrong. “We’re from Littleton,” my mom said, and still she hugged me.
After the ceremony, the kids went off to go on some rides and stuff. I didn’t really feel like doing anything, so I just took some pictures, and we went on the train that went around the park. I felt a little better afterwards. Apparently, they showed Danny Mauser and Kelly Flemming’s funeral on tv. My mom was flipping through the channels in her hotel room and saw our church. I was watching something else at the time, I can’t remember what. Hockey maybe? *grin*
We went to Disneyland again, and Universal Studios. It was alot of fun. I hung out mainly with my brother and the rest of the trombone section, and my friend Rachel. While waiting in line for the E.T. ride, one of the workers there asked where we were from. “Littleton, Colorado,” we made a point of it. “Oh, yeah?” the guy said. I don’t think he believed us. The rest of the trip went fine, and then we headed back.
The vice president had come to speak during our trip. He was on the steps of the movie theater right near Clement Park and Columbine. Later on, Clinton would come to our school to speak to the students of Columbine. They cleaned up the school, painted the bathrooms and everything, for the media most likely. During health, we always went on a walk outside. This time, we got to see the president’s helicopter make a test landing nearby. After school, a group of us was standing around by the band room. I was waiting for a ride. We looked down the hall and saw a few secret service agents coming towards us. We tried to act natural. *snicker*
The jazz band played before the president came out, so my brother was there. After they were finished playing, they were ready to go home, but the school was on lockdown of course. They asked one of the secret service agents if they could leave. “Sure,” he said. “Just watch out for the snipers on the roof.” They decided to stay a little longer.
Our youth minister, Jim, told us about a dream he had after Columbine, where there were all these kids dressed in t-shirts which had the saying, “We survived. We will prevail. We have hope to carry on.” So, he had these t-shirts made. On the front, they said “70 x 7” as in, “‘How many times must I forgive those who have wronged me, seven times?’ ‘No, 70 times seven times.’”. Then on the back, they had those three sayings. Everyone in the youth group got them, and they offered some to other churches as well.
One Sunday at church, the priest announced that Val Schnurr was there. She had been in the library, hiding under a table. One of the killers had asked her if she believed in God. “Yes,” she had said. “Why?” Her body was riddled with a shotgun blast. She had spent the days and weeks afterwards in the hospital. We watched her, able to walk up to the front of the church. She received a standing ovation.
I remember hearing later on that the mother of one of the victims who had been paralyzed in the shooting had commited suicide. She went to purchase a gun, and brought her own bullets. She asked to look at the gun, loaded it, and shot herself. That’s when I really started listening to Metallica’s FiXXXer. “Just when all seems fine, and I’m pain free, you jab another pin, jab another pin in me.”
In the days and weeks after Columbine, I wrote a song just based on my feelings about the incident:
My friends are gone
They’ve all died and flown away
This is my generation
We are killing ourselves
Someone please save our souls
Can’t you hear our cries for help?
We need guidance
We need faith
We need peace of mind
Spirit, won’t you be my guide?
Take me back, let me stop the bullets
Before they reach their marks
Take me back, let me stop the people
Before their hate grows too strong
Take me back, let me stop the serpent
Before he gives her the fruit
Keep me here, let me know that things will change
That I will change their hearts
I was drawing a picture as sort of a memorial. I remember the whole incident with the crosses put up at rebel hill. There had been 15, one for each of the victims, including the killers. Some people were upset that there had been a cross for Eric and Dylan as well. They were eventually taken down. I drew an image of rebel hill, with the crosses atop it. I wanted to be sure to draw 15, because I felt that the killers deserved to be remembered. They lost their lives just as all the others. Their families still grieved. I counted how many crosses I had drawn. It was 13. That made me cry. I erased them and drew 15 later.
We went up to Columbine awhile after the incident. I can remember driving by Clement Park. There were all these media trucks and tents. There was no place to park. We had to go to one of the residential areas nearby. We went up by the school. The fences were covered with banners and letters and flowers and other things left by people to pay their respects. I just silently read some of them. There was a signed banner left by the San Jose Sharks and fans. It was quiet there. We just took it all in.
My mother, my sister, and little brother went up to rebel hill afterwards. They took some pictures.
Columbine High School, June 1999
Columbine, a closer look
The windows of the library are boarded up.
Looking towards the mountains
Dakota Ridge High School is circled.
We went to the memorial service on the one year anniversary. We hadn’t done much in school that day. In Mr. Martin’s class, we just took a walk down to the park. That evening, we each had candles and walked from the church down to Clement Park. They held a vigil there. They sang songs, and some people went up to talk. Yes, they played the Columbine song “Friend of Mine”. I think we have a cd of it somewhere. I sat with a group of my friends in a circle. There were alot of media there. We just listened to what was being said, and reflected. I watched the moon rise. That was special.
A few of my friends, the ones who went to Columbine, stood off on their own for awhile. For them, it was different. And not all of us could understand. We weren’t there, and we didn’t feel the things they did, or hold the same memories of that day. Afterwards, we went looking for the bus that was to give us a ride back to the church. I was with my family then, my mom and younger sister and brother. We were supposed to meet at the elementary school nearby in one of the residential areas. We couldn’t find it, so after walking a few times around the development, we went back to the park and called my dad, who gave us a ride back.
I never collectively wrote down all my thoughts of Columbine and the days, weeks, months, years that followed. My memories, and my feelings. So here they are, or at least most of them. I’m sure there are some things that I left out.
Oh.. I remember hearing someone from church recount the time they met Dylan Klebold. It was at the talent show. He was a techie. “You did good,” he told her backstage. They were just kids like anyone else. And it wasn’t video games, or movies that made them do what they did. They were bullied, and they were sick of it, so they struck back. I remember praying that they wouldn’t go to hell, that they could be forgiven. I don’t know if I still believe in “hell” persay. But their acts in this life do not necessarily reflect who they truly are. “I have sent you nothing but angels.”
Turn our pain - to your gain
Keep your heart - on the mark
Comfort us - with your love
Columbine, flower blue
Tenderly I sing to you
Columbine, rose blood-red
Heartbreak overflows my head
Columbine, friend of mine
Peace will come to you in time
Columbine, friend of mine