Monday, April 20, 2009

Columbine: 10 Years Later

When the horrible events of April 20, 1999 unfolded at Columbine High School, news of the killing rampage spread quickly. When it reached me, I was working Macromedia's reception desk in San Francisco, alongside my pal, Laura. Flash forward a decade and, oddly enough, Laura and I both live here in Colorado.

While there were school shootings before Columbine and no shortage of similar incidents that followed, there is something about the Columbine massacre that has lodged itself deep in our national psyche. It has been analyzed, discussed, debated and written about more than any other school shooting. Even Michael Moore couldn't leave it alone.

Like so many tragedies on the news, the terrible events of that day were horrific, sure, but they also seemed far away. Like how the rest of country must have felt during the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco or the LA Riots - mostly unbelievable because it had happened elsewhere.

When I moved to Colorado, I was reminded that 'Columbine' is a flower - the state flower, actually. It is intricate and beautiful and you see them everywhere in the mountains. I now live two blocks down from Columbine Street and less than 11 miles from Columbine High School. I started meeting people who lived in Littleton, who knew students there, who knew someone who knew someone who was affected by the tragedy. Suddenly, the events of 4/0/99 seemed a lot more real - a lot more local.

Now, every time I drive through Littleton, I am taken in by its quaint charm. I also wonder about the folks who live there now - what they must have endured when evil disrupted their town, when the media trucks pulled in, when the lawsuits were filed, when fingers were pointed. Good God, I can't imagine it.

So today, I took advantage of my joblessness and attended the 10-year memorial service at Clement Park in Littleton. Seeing the families, the survivors (they reject the term, "victim"), the alumni, the Columbine staff and its dedicated principal, the current students and the community - made it so vivid; this was not live-streaming CNN, this was real life. I am in awe of their grace and strength. Instead of letting the tragedy rip them apart, they've allowed it to make them a tighter community.

I think it's incredibly cool that so many Columbine alumni have returned to teach there. So many point to the unceasing dedication of the school's beloved principal, Frank DeAngelis - at right.

I don't know the man but I could see he was a bit of an emotional wreck today. I could also see that he receiving a steady stream of love and support from students, staff and community. He has vowed to stay on as principal through 2012, to make sure that every child that was in the school district when the tragedy occurred, has graduated: "I feel I owe it to the community. The tragedy occurred on my watch."

Watching him today, I was reminded Sully, and our newest hero, Capt. Richard Phillips. All of these men take their jobs seriously in that quiet, dedicated way that you never hear about until something goes terribly awry. Tough times sure bring out the best in some men, that's for sure.

I took quite a few photos, all of which can be viewed here.

4 comments:

fyrchk said...

Goosebumps.

hotdrwife said...

Man.

Having lived in Colorado since forever and living here when that happened, I am absolutely amazed that it has been TEN YEARS.

When it happened, I was working at UH. As you may remember, my beloved was the surgeon who took care of one of the young men featured in Michael Moore's movie. (and that was wild to watch the movie and hear my husband say, "Oh wow, I operated on THAT kid".)

In any event, it touched everyone somehow. What struck me the most of a 5280 article recently where one of the survivor's said she would someday have to explain her scar to her own child, and tell them she was shot at school.

It's still wild to comprehend.

But really ... high school is temporary. And how I wish kids could see past that time, you know??

Fang Bastardson said...

Townes Van Zandt wrote a song called "Columbine," well before the infamous events of 4/20/99, whose lyrics are sadly almost prescient:

Tossin' hair of raven
eyes of flashin' blue
all the livin' that you're savin'
won't buy you dreams for you

Cut yourself a columbine
tear it from the stem
now breathe upon the petals fine
and throw them to the wind

Watch the petals dancin'
see them twirl and sing
all your pride and prancin'
how much does it mean?

Watch the petals start to fly
and then come falling down
hear the wind begin to cry
as she sees some touch the ground

ClizBiz said...

Syd: Everyone talked about how they long for the day when the word 'Columbine' is not a metaphor for horrific violence. They talked about how much they long for the day when they are not the most famous high school in America. It may take a few generations, I'm afraid.

Fang: Wow. Thanks for sharing these lyrics. I remember this song but now it has new meaning for me.