Columbine Students Return to School
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 4, 1999; Page A1
LITTLETON, Colo. – In the noon sunshine, Columbine High's students assembled at their rivals' school. The first day back looked more like a pep rally than a solemn return: Most students wore Columbine colors, navy blue and silver. There were even balloons.
But it wasn't as easy as that. Teenagers drove to their temporary haven at Chatfield High School in Jeeps and Broncos with painted windows vowing "We will go on." Two Jefferson County sheriff's deputies on motorcycles and one state police patrol car stood guard. Three mothers watched over the school's main crosswalk, passing out leaflets on how to handle the media.
About 2,000 Columbine students returned to school just before 1 p.m. today for the first time since the shootings two weeks ago that left 15 dead and 21 injured in an afternoon of bombs, gunfire and mocking nihilism.
The Columbine school building – still strewn with students' backpacks, textbooks and the detritus of the violence – remains closed for evidence gathering and is not expected to reopen until September. Chatfield's own students attended classes in the morning; the split-day schedule will continue through the end of the school year on May 27.
For some students, the return to school – even one not their own – was a welcome stab at normalcy after a week of 15 funerals and an avalanche of media attention. For others, the day was terrifying, and came too soon after the carnage.
"I'm scared," said Margot Brown, a freshman who was in the library and was saved from the worst only because she forgot her ruler in the cafeteria and went to retrieve it. "I've always been scared since that Tuesday. You never know when something is going to happen. I don't care how many people are watching over us. I'm still scared."
Five of Brown's Columbine classmates remain hospitalized. Police today arrested a 22-year-old man who allegedly supplied the killers, students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, with a semiautomatic weapon they used in the massacre. And school authorities asked students friendly with the two gunmen to stay away from Chatfield.
"Those students who may have been associated with Mr. Harris and Mr. Klebold" were asked not to attend, said Jefferson County superintendent Jane Hammond.
"We have provided other educational opportunities for those individuals," she said at a news conference. "We decided that was the most prudent action." A spokesman for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department said eight to 10 friends of the suspects did not attend school on Monday.
Still, many students and their parents remained uneasy. "I think we should have waited a little longer," said one girl entering the school, who did not want to give her name. "Just to recuperate a little more."
Another young man, who said he was afraid to give his name, said: "I don't feel safe anywhere right now. All the precautions they're supposed to be taking, like checking IDs and letting us in only one entrance – if someone comes in carrying a lot of guns, what good is checking their ID?"
But one senior, who would not give his name, said he was unfazed by the return to school. Asked if he were sad at all, he said, "No," then added, "I'm excited to see some people I haven't seen in a while. I'm sad we're not gonna be at Columbine anymore."
As they discussed the idea of returning to school during the past several days, students and parents said the event would be far more difficult for the group of about 200 students at the epicenter of the violence – in the library, some hallways, and in the science room where teacher Dave Sanders slowly died.
At a school memorial gathering last week, some parents noticed a striking difference between the kids who got out early and easily and those who did not.
"One big group – not these 200 – they were cheering, they were happy, the usual hormones raging. Then there was the group where we were sitting. They were holding their parents and crying," said Susan Cook, whose daughter, Angela Adams, 16, was trapped in the science room.
"Angela said when we got home that night, 'I don't know why I don't feel happy yet.' And I said, 'You have to realize those cheering kids, they were out of the building, or at lunch, they didn't sit for three hours in a room with a bleeding teacher, and watch the doorknob turn and Eric and Dylan try to break down the door.'‚"
Many parents say they are seriously worried about the possibility of another shooting. There are pockets of mothers and fathers who believe that Harris and Klebold sympathizers, or even accomplices, could remain among the students. Said one mother who did not want to be quoted by name, "So much has been going on that has not come out yet. I am really scared about my child's safety."
To combat some of her trepidation, Cook tried to give her daughter a cell phone. But officials told her that all cell phones will be blocked in the Chatfield building. Other safety measures did not reassure her. "They sweep the school in the morning, a bomb sweep, which really I don't have a lot of faith in because it didn't seem to work when they swept Columbine for the propane bombs," Cook said.
Cook's daughter, Adams, said Sunday night that she was "okay" with returning to Chatfield, but not Columbine. She said she may not be able to return at all next year. And she was wary of fifth-period biology class, which was to fall around 4 p.m. today. It was in biology class, taking a test, that she heard the first shots. And it was at 4 p.m. that she was finally released from the science room by gun-wielding SWAT officers who had her run out of the school with hands in the air, jumping over classmates' bodies in the way.
Still, many students echoed the feelings of Stephanie Plank, a junior, who was driving back to school from lunch on April 20 and thought she was seeing a fire drill. For her, Columbine stirs up declarations of affection and pride that seem to have been intensified by the attack.
"Columbine is my school," she said Sunday night. "I want to finish there. I feel like it's where I was born and raised."
Pam Glazner, 18, is co-editor of the student newspaper. Like her classmates, her backpack is right where she left it that Tuesday. In it are a trigonometry textbook and a copy of the novel "Cold Mountain," which she had just finished discussing during her advanced-placement English class.
"I was lucky, I didn't see anything," she said. "I heard a few things." Glazner, nonetheless, is changed. She had once considered a career in journalism, but said she no longer does. After 120 calls from reporters, one of whom mistakenly told her a close friend was dead, she is distrustful.
Another thing that bothers her is the card given to her by school officials. They told her to itemize all the things in her backpack, so she could get it back. She keeps thinking she has written everything down. Then she remembers something she didn't even know she had. "I can't seem to get it right," she said.
Staff writers Cheryl W. Thompson and Tom Kenworthy and staff researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company