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Columbine: 'Our school' reopens

students return
Students return to Columbine High School

Security improvements
  • Identity badges to be worn by all students and faculty
  • 16 color video cameras that will watch over the school inside and out
  • A reduction in the number of outside entrances
  • A third uniformed guard to join a roving patrol, which includes an armed sheriff's deputy
    The father of Anne-Marie Hochhalter, a student with severe injuries, spoke with CNN's Martin Savidge before the reopening of school.
    Windows Media 28K 80K

    'Hug your kids every day': CNN's Martin Savidge talks with the father of Anne-Marie Hochhalter, seriously wounded in the shooting (April 27)
    Windows Media 28K 80K

    CNN's Anne McDermott meets with Richard Castaldo, a Columbine student whose life changed on April 20
    Windows Media 28K 80K
    Are U.S. schools safe?
    Recent school shootings
    Keeping schools safe

    August 16, 1999
    Web posted at: 10:33 a.m. EDT (1433 GMT)

    In this story:


    'Still scary'

    Not everyone returning

    Investigation continues


    LITTLETON, Colorado (CNN) -- The "taking back" of Columbine High School began Monday as 2,000 students returned to school, some apprehensive about going back inside the scene of last spring's deadly shooting rampage; others eager to resume studies.

    "Most of us are ready to go back to our school," Jennifer Despain, a 17-year-old junior, told CNN.

    Many students wore printed T-shirts with the words "We Are ... " on the front, "Columbine" on the back.

    It's been four months since Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, stormed the school with guns and bombs, killing a dozen classmates and a teacher before committing suicide. Twenty-three others were injured.

    Before classes begin, Principal Frank DeAngelis led the students, teachers and staff in a "take back the school" rally. A U.S. flag that has been at half-staff since the April 20 shootings was then raised and the school's doors opened.


    Parents and alumni planned to shield students and teachers from the media attention by forming a human barrier along a path between a secured parking lot and the school.

    The Jefferson County school district, which is imposing tight restrictions on the media, informed photographers and television crews that taking pictures of injured students was prohibited.

    Inside the school, bullet and shrapnel holes have been plastered and painted over. And there's a new wall of lockers blocking the entrance to the second-floor library where 10 people died.

    Even the sound of the fire alarm -- which rang non-stop for hours on April 20 -- has been changed to prevent flashback fears, should it go off again

    Jennifer Despain says she is ready to return to Columbine High School, which has been renovated to hide any scars from the April massacre  

    'Still scary'

    Like many of her friends, 17-year-old Columbine student Kim Blair has mixed feelings about returning to building where so much blood was spilled. "It's still scary ... it's creepy," she said in advance of Monday's reopening of the suburban Denver school.

    "I'm really excited to get our school back," said Julie McGinley, 15, who was in the cafeteria eating lunch when the shootings began.

    "But I'm nervous, too," she said over the weekend. "All summer I've been trying to live life as normal. Being back there is going to trigger a lot of memories."

    If those memories become too much, mental health counselors are on hand. Likewise, a team of substitute teachers is available should any regular teacher need a break.

    Not everyone returning

    As Littleton eases back to normality from the pain, it wants to be seen as a community of victors overcoming tragedy. Still, some of the Columbine shooting survivors won't be joining their classmates -- at least not on the first day back to school.

    Anne-Marie Hochhalter is still recovering from her injuries, but plans to return to school later this year  

    Richard Castaldo, 17, paralyzed by spinal cord injuries, is the only shooting victim still in the hospital. Learning to get around by wheelchair, Castaldo has told classmates he'll eventually return to school.

    Anne-Marie Hochhalter has similar plans. The teen, who nearly died from her gunshot wounds, was released from the hospital last week.

    Paralyzed from the waist down, she's still weak and has chronic nerve pain, her father told CNN, explaining why Anne-Marie will wait awhile before she begins her senior year at Columbine.

    "But she's doing great in all other respects," said Ted Hochhalter. "She's got all of the skills that she needs to become independent. It's just going to take some time."

    In preparation for her return to Columbine, Anne-Marie has already visited the school -- a "tasking" experience, her father said.

    Michael Shoels
    Following the killing of their son Isaiah, Michael Shoels, pictured above at his son's grave site, and his wife, Vonna, moved from Littleton  

    "She got emotional for a short period of time, and then moved on," Ted Hochhalter said. "I thought that was ... an incredible show of strength, emotionally, for her."

    For others, though, the emotions of April 20 are too much to even stay in Littleton.

    Michael and Vonna Shoels, whose oldest son, Isaiah, was the only black student killed, believe racial hatred helped pull the trigger.

    The Shoels, who have moved out of Littleton, have filed a $250 million lawsuit against the Klebold and Harris families. They also want money from the community healing fund to help pay for a new home.

    Investigation continues

    While authorities investigating the Columbine shootings have conducted at least 4,000 interviews and followed nearly as many leads, they say there's no indication that anyone other than the two gunmen participated in the attack.

    "At this point, we have no physical evidence that would indicate the involvement directly of anyone other than Harris or Klebold," said John Kiekbusch of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.

    Students wear special T-shirts that spell out the spirit of their return to the school  

    But, he added, investigators are still looking for information "that might lead to any potential criminal charges ... in terms of activities prior to the attack."

    Kiekbusch said Klebold's parents have been interviewed and were "cooperative." Harris' parents "are working with the district attorney's office," he said.

    "Their concern is that any additional (legal) exposure that they may have, based on statements they would make as part of the criminal investigation. But at this point," Kiekbusch said, "there's no evidence that would indicate there are any kind of criminal charges pending against them."

    Correspondent Martin Savidge and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    Columbine students prepare to take back their school
    August 15, 1999
    Columbine students eager to return
    August 13, 1999
    Redesigned Columbine High ready to welcome students back
    August 6, 1999
    Study: School violence down, but still too high
    August 4, 1999
    Family of Columbine shooting suspect fights autopsy release
    July 1, 1999
    California student runs to aid Columbine shooting victim
    June 22, 1999
    Alleged provider of Columbine handgun may face new charge
    June 22, 1999
    Crews work to erase signs of massacre at Columbine
    June 16, 1999

    Columbine High School
    Violence Policy Center
       Fact Sheet on Colorado School Shooting
    School violence
    CDC: Facts About Violence Among Youth
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