As the 20th anniversary of the deadly Columbine High School shooting approaches, The Denver Post takes a look back at the aftermath of the April 20, 1999, massacre and what has happened in the decades since. A number of Columbine student and faculty survivors and the families of some of those killed in the shooting shared their stories and reflected on the impact of that tragic day 20 years ago.
Evan Todd was the first student wounded in the library at Columbine and the last student to speak to the killers before their rampage ended. Todd was hiding beneath the librarian’s desk as the killers were leaving. “I pulled the chair up to just try to hide a little bit more. They saw me and one of them yanked the chair out and kneeled down. That’s when he put a gun to my head and asked me, ‘Why shouldn’t we kill you?’” Todd responded somewhat defiantly, “Look, I’ve been good to you and everyone in this school and you know it.” The students let him live before leaving the library and committing suicide.
Columbine survivor Josh Lapp was a sophomore on April 20, 1999, when two armed students entered the library where he was studying with three friends. Lapp recalls knowing that the sound was gunfire and took cover with classmates. He used his own body to shield those around him in hopes that if shots came in their direction, he would be able to protect them. “I was basically peering over my shoulder. I don’t know why… I just had to watch them. If they were going to shoot me, if they were going to kill me, they had to look me in the eyes.”
Columbine survivor Heather Martin was a senior on April 20, 1999. Martin, who is now a teacher, spent nearly a decade trying to piece together the events of that day. She now works with survivors of other atrocities along with fellow Columbine survivor Missy Mendo.
Columbine survivor Missy Mendo was a freshman on April 20, 1999. Mendo now works with survivors of other atrocities along with fellow Columbine survivor Heather Martin.
Columbine survivor Craig Scott was in the library with friends on April 20, 1999. He was the first student to stand after the shooters briefly exited the library and shouted to classmates that they needed to run. Scott’s sister Rachel, who was also a student at the time, was shot and killed. “If you were to ask me why Columbine happened, the biggest thing, it’s not bullying, it’s not the medication they were on, it wasn’t bad parenting, it wasn’t the school, it wasn’t lack of gun control or any legislation – it was them. It was the two shooters and the choices they were making. They saw nothing but negative in this world and in themselves.”
Former Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis recalls a normal day becoming horribly atypical 20 years later. DeAngelis walked into the hallway after his secretary told him there were reports of gunfire. There he saw clearly a shooter at the other end of the hall. The fire alarms were sounding, strobe lights were flashing and shots were fired. Glass broke behind DeAngelis and he ran towards a group of girls coming out of the locker room who did not know what they were walking into. “I had been there for 20 years and I could count on my two hands the number of fist fights we had. I run down out of my office thinking senior prank, seniors misbehaving. Then my worst nightmare became a reality.”
Columbine head football coach Andy Lowry has spent 25 years at the school where he has been a state championship-winning coach as well as a witness to the massacre on April 20, 1999, that left 12 students and one teacher dead after two students opened fire.
Darrell Scott, father of Columbine victim Rachel Scott and survivor Craig Scott, said of what resulted after the atrocity at his children’s school, “Well, I think the tragedy and the word Columbine are separate issues. Unfortunately, the word has a stigma associated with it to the rest of the world. Columbine means dovelike. It actually represents peace. … so what’s a symbol of peace has become, unfortunately, a symbol of violence and tragedy.”
Sandy Scott, wife of Darrell Scott, whose two children were students at the time of the Columbine massacre on April 20, 1999. Craig Scott survived, but his sister, Rachel, was among the 13 victims who were shot and killed that day.
Coni Sanders, daughter of teacher Dave Sanders, who was the only faculty member killed during the massacre at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Sanders recalled how she heard about the news, while at work, “I had overheard somebody in an office say something about stupid kids at Columbine and I poked my head in and I said, ‘my dad teaches there.’ And everybody just turned white and they pushed me out of the room and they said, ‘you need to call your mother.’”
Rick Townsend, father of Columbine victim Lauren Townsend, said of losing his daughter in such a large-scale event, “We had the advantage early on of grieving with 12 other families, although we were grieving in a fishbowl because everyone was watching. I am one of the few people that can say I know what that feels like. I don’t want to be part of that club, but some of us are. In time, the pain will become less. In time, the anger will soften. It just takes that time and taking care of yourself and looking for a support system in family and friends.”
Dawn Anna, mother of Lauren Townsend, spoke about waiting to hear from her daughter on the day of the Columbine massacre on April 20, 1999, “I got home, running out of the car into the house, the phone was ringing, I picked it up thinking it was Lauren. They said, ‘oh, this is the Boston Globe. We want a comment from you.’ I said, ‘please hang up, I am trying to keep this line clear. I am waiting to hear from my daughter.’ Then my phone was just incessantly ringing. So I turned on the television and I started witnessing what everybody else in the nation was witnessing, waiting for a phone call that never came.”
Bruce Beck, stepfather of Lauren Townsend, said of Townsend, who was among the 13 killed during the Columbine massacre on April 20, 1999, “Each person that she ran into smiled or laughed and I can’t think of a better compliment to somebody than having that kind of attitude around your friends.”
Tom Mauser, father of Columbine victim Daniel Mauser, who was shot and killed at age 15 in the library of his school. Mauser became a leading voice on gun laws after the event. He said of his son, “Daniel would be 35 now. We think he would have gone into something like medical research. … but frankly, I try not to think too much what Daniel would be doing, what he would be like. I pretty much focus on what his life was like for those first 15 years because it’s just too damn difficult to look at what things might be like if he was alive.”
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