Saturday, September 26, 2009
I am in Boulder! After 10 years of working on "A Line in the Sand", I finally have an opportunity to perform the play for a Colorado audience. Boulder is just 45 minutes away from Columbine High School, in Littleton. I was invited to perform here as part of The Moondance International Film Festival in Boulder. This is the 10th year of the festival and the 10th anniversary year of Columbine. I have won the award for Best Stageplay, and the wonderful founder and director of the festival, Elizabeth English, invited to me to perform "A Line in the Sand" at the festival.
I have been attending networking parties and screenings, doing last minute publicity for the show, calling the families of the victims to invite them, putting together my discussion panel, trying to fit in some hiking. IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL HERE. It rained the first two days, but now it's blue, blue skies and Rocky Mountain peaks. I am staying at the base of the Flatiron mountain in Chautauqua Park. My cottage was built in 1915. There are pictures of the cottages from those days on the wall in my living room. They look like canvas tents. There's another picture of an old trolley car that used to take people around the park. Amazing history here. I met the local historian and groundskeeper, Steve. I have some video of him talking about the park. For the past 20 years, he has been in charge of renovating the cottages. The look old on the outside, but inside they have modern renovations, very charming.
It has been a bit daunting trying to get the people that I interviewed 10 years ago to come see the play. Some of the parents of the victims said they don't want to "go back there," which I completely understand. After 10 years, they want to move on and have some peace. Others are driven to try to prevent this kind of horrific loss from happening to other families. Tom Mauser, the father of Daniel Mauser, one of the 13 victims, has devoted the last 10 years to working for gun control. Please see my blog entry on Daniel to learn more about Tom's work, or go to www.danielmauser.com
Tom has agreed to speak on my post show discussion panel tomorrow after the performance. Connie Michalik, mother of injured Columbine student, Richard Castaldo, will also be speaking. Both Connie and Richard appeared in Michael Moore's film, "Bowling for Columbine." In the film, they go to the Denver Kmart store with Michael Moore to ask them to stop selling bullets, and because of their efforts, Kmart doesn't sell bullets anymore.
Connie was so kind to me when I came to interview her and Richard at their home in 1999. Richard was shot outside of Columbine, along with Rachel Scott, who was killed. They were eating lunch together. Richard was paralyzed from the waist down. He was in good spirits when I spoke to him and his girlfriend at the time. After the interview, Connie invited me to go with her to Columbine High School. Richard had to attend a practice session with the marching band. Later, Connie and I talked some more at the local IHOP.
When we spoke on the phone last week, she told me that Richard is doing great. He is trying to get into sound engineering out in California. He is still paralyzed, but Connie said they are hoping that progress in stem cell research will eventually help him to walk again.
Off to hike and rehearse.
more soon with video and photos....
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Rachel Scott, 17
In the Spring of 2000, I heard Rachel's father, Darrell Scott, speak at a small fundraiser for a local group in Denver. There were about a hundred people in the room, at the most. Darrell was used to speaking to groups of up to 30,000 people in large public arenas. After Rachel was murdered at Columbine, Darrell and his wife, Sandy, founded Rachel's Challenge, with the following mission:
"We exist to inspire, equip and empower every person to create a permanent positive culture change in their school, business and community by starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion."
Since it's inception, Rachel's Challenge has had the following impact in schools:
3,300 schools (high schools and middle schools)
Multiple stadium and large venue events
50 states and six countries
11,000,000 people reached with the message
Seven documented school shootings/violence prevented
Hundreds of suicides averted
The Rachel's Challenge Summit will be held in Denver, in June of 2010.
"Presentations will focus on creating a safe and productive learning environment by delivering antidotes to violence and bullying."
To learn more about Rachel's Challenge, please go to www.rachelschallenge.org
Here is an excerpt from Darrell's talk, that I attended:
Wow, it's nice to be a living room setting. This is the smallest group I've spoken to, and I told Sandy on the way over, I said, "I think I'm more nervous." So, it's good to be here with you tonight.
So, I'm not... I don't feel motivated to give you a 30,000 people presentation because I, I just want to talk to you a little bit from my heart tonight. My, my agenda is, is, uh, is very simple. It is a spiritual agenda. Uh, I don't think that you're kids in the word today are looking for religion. In fact, they're kind of sick of it. But they are looking for real answers, and they're looking for real people to give them real answers.
Um, Columbine to me, looking back over the last 11 months is, has truly been a spiritual event.
Rachel left with us a series of journals, that would reach my knee if they were stacked from the ground up. One of them, I carry with me, and I never, uh, open this, because I don't want it to get worn out or, or the pages to get frayed. This was in her backpack the day that she was killed. There's a bullet hole that goes halfway through the diary. And it goes in at the spot where she had written on the page, "I won't be labeled as average." And on the front, she wrote these words, "I write not for the sake of glory, not for the sake of fame, not for the sake of success, but for the sake of my soul. Rachael Joy."
And Rachael poured into her journals incredible wisdom for a 17 year old. She poured into it, um, prophetic pictures, prophetic poems. You'll see why I'm saying that later on, that there was a prophetic element about the Columbine tragedy, that she drew a picture of thirty minutes before she was killed. And in the last poem that she wrote, you'll see in her own hand, a portion of that poem that deals with her relationship with God and with her school. And she says in that poem, "God, who will you give to walk with me through these halls of tragedy?"
And out of this terrible, terrible tragedy, over the last 11 months, I personally, with my own eyes, have seen tens of thousands of young people have their lives changed. And I have seen closure come to parents who lost children, come up and talk to me by the sometimes by the dozen. I've seen so much good come out of something that was so horrible. And I know that Rachel would not change anything where she's concerned, because she wanted her life to count. She didn't view herself as average.
From the time she was 12 years old, she had a very clear cut vision of what she wanted in life, and she went after it. And her two greatest desires were to be, uh, an actress and a missionary. Now you go figure that out. I don't know how those two coincide, but ironically through her death she's able.
There's interest in books. There are books that have already been written. There is one called, "Martyr's March," which is about her life, uh, and several more coming out. She'll be seen in television and, and movies, and is constantly, everywhere we go she's usually a lead story in the city that we're in.
But, um, more importantly than that, she's become a missionary. She's been used to see literary hundreds of thousands of people. Her funeral was the largest viewing audience that CNN ever had in its entire history. Um, we've received 25,000 pieces of mail, not counting the phone calls, e-mails. We are constantly, still bombarded, from all over the world, from people whose lives were affected. I used to meet people on airplanes all the time that, uh, my daughter's funeral, they watched it or it affected some member of their family. So, she did have an impact on the world. She only lived 17 years, but it was a full life, and through her death she accomplished things that she wrote about and dreamed about.
So, I want you just to meet Rachel, um, in pictures, Her middle name is Joy, and she was a joy to everybody that knew her. This is from when she was little. (He shows a slide) And you'll notice the tilting of the head. She does this in almost every photograph. It's like a pose that she struck, and as she got older it's almost like her hair got heavier or something, but her head tilts more and more.
Rachal was one those babies, I have five children, and she's one of those that just lights up a room when she walks in. She was the, the fireplug, you know, of our family. And, um, she just had that joy from the time she was just a tiny baby.
This was something I found that is still in her wallet, uh, in her billfold, in her purse after she died. And it's, uh, still hard for me to read. But years ago I had made her, made up little themes, and this was one of them. "Suspected to stealing little boys' hearts and definitely guilty of stealing her dad's heart." And she was guilty of that.
Rachel's mother, Beth Nimmo, started the website, www.racheljoyscott.com
Beth has a new book out entitled, "Through a Mother's Eyes."
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Isaiah dreamed of becoming a music executive. After graduating from Columbine, he wanted to attend an arts college.
I interviewed his parents, Michael and Vonda Shoels, in July of 2000 at there home in Houston, Texas. They had moved there, because they no longer felt comfortable living in Littleton, Colorado.
They were part of a group lawsuit filed by some of the victims' families against the parents of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the Jefferson County Sherriff's Department, and Columbine High School for negligence. The lawsuits against The Jeffco Sheriff's Department and the school were dismissed by the court in 2001. The judge stated that the two entities met the claim of government immunity. Both the Harrises and the Klebolds reached a $1.56 settlement agreement with 30 families with children who were either killed or wounded in the massacre.
Here is an excerpt from my interview with Michael and Vonda:
MICHAEL: My goodness. I mean, people say that like we supposed to be doing all well and better. I mean, but we done lost...that's a big loss, you know what I'm saying? I mean, that's a part, just like a part of your body being ripped away from you, with and, you know, that part without it then treated, and you know what it does? It causes pain and irritation and, you know what I'm saying, exposure. You know, maybe it's a process, but right now, I mean, I feel like it just happened yesterday. And I don't know how long I'm going to feel that way, but you it is very painful. I didn't know there was such pain, you know what I'm saying? I didn't know pain existed like that, until after this. I mean, this is worse than any physical pain that any man could get. I mean, I rather for them to rip my arm off or my leg than to take one of my babies. So, you know, that's--this thing is real. I mean, there is no end to it. The way I feel today, there is no end. I feel just like it happened yesterday. I mean, because I can see it over and over in my mind how it was done, you know, and how it was put together, and things was ignored, and how my home was treated, you know, by this whole thing being put into process.
So, but, uh, you know, my son had his whole life in front of him, you know, and it's gone now. We never will see grandchildren from him. We never will see his real expectations of being an adult, a caring adult, where I know for sure that he'd have made a difference in the world today. His mark would have been if he would have lived anyway, so that's not the point. The point is the human side of us want him back. I mean, you can't...the pain is real. But, uh, you know, there is a spiritual side, and I just hope he's resting now, you know what I'm saying? Hope he's in a peaceful place, wherever it is.
Isaiah wanted to be in the light. And, uh, you know, he was going to take over my company. I had a production company back then, a record label, which is Notorious Records. And, uh, he would have took it over, once he finished school he'd have took it over. Because, I mean, you know, he'd been trained to do that all his life. He's been in the music all of his life really, because I've been in music ever since he's been here. So, you know, when he was reared up, you know, watching me draw up contracts and things, so really as far as I'm concerned he needed no education as far as running this company, because he knew how. He knew how to go talk to people, he knew how to scout, everything about this business he knew how to do it. I had big plans for him, and as far as I can say, I was robbed. (gestures to Vonda) We both was robbed. He will never be able to show me his greatest potential. That's something we will never see.
People should take their parenthood back. That's what it's all about. Uh, and the reason I started this, I was thinking about a promise that me and his mother made him 72 hours before this thing happened. He asked us what would we do if someone shot down all of our children. I mean he asked my wife that, out of no where. And, uh, we was going down the highway, and, uh, well I stopped the van and we both, you know, we had a conversation about it. And, uh, my wife told him that, you know, we're Christian people so we can't be vengeful because if we did what they did, went and got guns and killed them, well we wouldn't be no better than they was. And that's when we told him quotes out of the Bible, "God said let all vengeance be mine. Let all revenges be mine." And that's what we told him. Then, I turned around and told him, you know, I asked him was there anyone up there at the school bothering him or his sister or brother that was up there with him. And, you know, he constantly said no. He just told us no. So, after it was all said and done we both promised him that if anything happens to any one of his brothers or sisters by any kind of foul play that we would speak against that for the rest of our lives. I mean, we will combat it, fight it, or whatever. Physically, mentally, or whatever, we will do what we have to do to keep that from happening to anybody else. We told him this. Right then. But I never knew, I never knew that we would be honoring this 72 hours after the conversation we had with him.
So, that was my boiling point, and all I could think about was the promise that me and my wife made him three days--I mean, three days prior we had this conversation. So, that's what made me get out there and start doing what I was doing.
And it didn't make an sense of what was going on there in Colorado. I mean, my goodness, they act like we pulled the trigger. You know, they start treating us just because we asked one question: what happened in that school? And we had a right to ask what happened because of what, you know, we had son that died in that school. We had a son that died in that school, so that's what gave us the opportunity to ask about what happened. You ain't supposed to tell us to hold on, or hold off, let us go and run this investigation. That's isn't the way to talk to somebody under those circumstances. I got fed up with it. I said, you going to answer some questions. Somebody going to answer some questions, because it sound like to me you all trying to get something else together. So, what happened is I told them that, you know, I'd gotten an attorney.
And see people talking about this thing for the money. This thing is not for the money, this thing is doing the same thing as when they call civil disobedience, or whatever you want to call it. It's because I figured my son's civil rights was tampered with when he was shot down in that school, when he was slain down. And I feel like somebody has to answer to what happened in that school that day. And wasn't nobody going to say nothing until we started tampering with their pockets. You know, people, they don't care less what you say. I mean, if it don't hurt them in no kind of way. You know, because talk is only talk. But when you got tampering with their existence, and that's their money or whatever they want to call it, their security, then they start talking and being more persistent. And this is what this lawsuit is all about. They said well why are you doing it for so much? Well, if I'd have did it for $100,000 they couldn't have cared, because all of them would have chipped in together and throwed it out. Because I wouldn't have gotten no answers from that, you see what I'm saying? So, that's why we've put such a big amount on it [250 million], and that will let them know that we mean business. We want to find out what happened in that school. And whatever we have to do, we are willing to do. Mm-hmm. You know good and well we're not going to get that kind of money. But we will get the attention to let them know we mean business. We want to know what happened in that school. And we will take it to court if that's what need be. Somebody's going to answer to what happened in that school. See, that give us subpoena power if we did that. So, you know, I mean it's all--it's all about finding out the truth.
ADINA: Why are you suing the parents?
VONDA: Because they should have known what their kids was doing in that house.
MICHAEL: They should have know what their kids was doing.
VONDA: They should have known that their kids was making bombs. I mean, I went on the Montel Williams show, and there was a lady, her and her son came on the show. Her son went to Columbine. And she lived a few houses down from the--I don't know if it was the Klebolds or the Harrises, I don't know which one, but it was one of them. And she actually got on the show and said she heard glass breaking, sawing, hammering. I mean, she heard all kinds--and she said it wasn't right. So, if she heard it, then how many other people heard that? And the audience was asking her, "Well why didn't you call the police?" Well, she did not know what they were doing down there, you know. She can't lean out of her house and say "Hey, what are you doing down there?" So, I think the parents should have known. It's no telling how many people know what they were doing in there.
MICHAEL: We even heard that one of the dads helped one of the kids disarm one of the bombs, and put it in the closet.
VONDA: Uh-huh. That was in a magazine. I don't know what magazine, but one of the parents helped their son disarm it and put it back in the closet.
ADINA: So they knew it was there?
VONDA: They knew, someone knew. But they were just too-- I don't know if they were scared of their kids. It seemed like they were so frightened of their kids, that it was easier to keep quiet. And I understand you can't watch your kids 24 hours a day, but you should know some things that they're doing, you know? If they were building these bombs, where was the parents parking their car? I mean, did the kids let them in their garage, or it just sounds real strange.
MICHAEL: There's a lot of unanswered questions. Let's just go and call an apple an apple and an orange an orange. See, they been trying to cover this thing up for a year and a half, see? And we ain't going to let them cover it up, because we had a part in that thing right there. We had something taken away from us that will never be back. And we are going to, we are going to fight and, and we are going to do what we have to do to come to the truth, because how are we going to heal? I mean, you can't heal if you going to put a band-aid on it and not put, uh, uh, some kind of bacterialcide on it, or you know something to fight the germs or something that will kill the, the impurity in that wound. Now, how you going to do anything, how you going to heal from that? And that's the way I feel. I feel like there's a, uh, it's cancer going on around. And that's exactly how that situation is being treated. There's things not being said, you know, that need to be said. There's things being covered up that didn't need to be covered up, you see what I'm saying? So, that's what I'm talking about.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Sorry, I've been away for a bit. Went to California for a few weeks. Also, broke my finger, which makes typing a challenge.
While I was on vacation, I called my New York senators, Chuck Schumer and the lovely Kirsten Gillibrand, to urge them to oppose the Thune Amendment. Actually, I spoke to their assistants, but it still felt good.
Especially, since the amendment was defeated!!!
Great article in the NY Times about it.
Keep fighting the good fight.
With a little patience, we will live to see a less violent tomorrow.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I must pause from working on my Columbine entries for a moment to wish Reema Samaha a very Happy Birthday.
Today, Reema Samaha would have been 21 years old. Reema was one of the 32 victims who was murdered on April 16, 2007 at Virginia Tech. She was the youngest of three children born to Joseph and Mona Samaha of Centreville, Virginia, where she lived for her entire life. Reema was very close to her family. Her older brother, Omar, preceded her to Virginia Tech, and her sister, Randa, attended the University of Virginia. Reema was passionate about theater and dance. At Westfield High School, she performed for their dance team, and she was a member of their improvisational group. Reema appeared in both plays and musicals, including "Oklahoma" and "Arsenic and Old Lace", for which she won rave reviews. She graduated summa cum laude from Westfield. At Viginia Tech, Reema continued to follow her passion for dance, participating in several groups there. She also had a 4.0 GPA, and she intended to major in Urban Planning and International Studies, with a minor in French.
Abby Spangler, founder of Protest Easy Guns wrote on her Facebook page this morning, “My heart aches and aches for the Samaha family. The fight against lax U.S. gun laws is in memory of the 32 massacre victims and all Americans whose lives are ripped from them by gun violence. Felons and dangerous individuals have very easy access to guns and are murdering and devastating our loving families. Our U.S. legislators will not act unless we Americans DEMAND it.”
Wherever you are right now, Reema, I hope you are happy and dancing.
To learn more about Reema Samaha’s life, please view her website: www.reemasamaha.org
Saturday, May 23, 2009
William "Dave" Sanders, 47.
Dave Sanders was a Columbine teacher for 25 years. He taught computer and business courses. He also coached the girls' basketball and softball teams. Dave was shot twice in the chest while directing students down the hallway to safety. He survived for at least three and a half hours. He left behind his wife, Linda, three daughters, and five grandchildren. He was a true hero on April 20, 1999. He stood in front of bullets to protect his students. While waiting for the SWAT teams to find him in a classroom, his students tried to stop the bleeding from his gun shot wounds. When they finally found him, Sanders had bled to death.
I tried to contact Coach Sanders' daughter, Angela, several times to arrange an interview with her, but it didn't work out. She wrote a letter to him, which she read at his funeral. (To see an excerpt from the letter and to learn more about Dave Sanders, read this article)
I also interviewed several teachers that had worked with Sanders at Columbine.
Ivory Moore, an American History teacher at Columbine, a track and football coach, and close friend of Dave Sanders, told me the following:
"Well, Dave was one of those teachers that started at Columbine about a year, two years after Columbine was opened and he spent all of his, ah, Jeff Co educational career at there. Since 74’, right. Yeah, so he was a mainstay. When you thought of Columbine, Dave Sanders was one of those individuals…he touched a lot of students, a lot of athletes ah, you know, throughout his career. He had an impact on a lot of teachers and a lot of other coaches at Columbine or, you know, more specifically, he's one of those individuals that brought me aboard that, you know, to have me be involved in the track program in 1988, when I first started teaching in the Columbine area. And, you know, our friendship, ah, just grew from there. He was a very open individual, very ah, positive as far as young people were concerned, you know, obviously a good teacher and a good person, a good friend.
I don't know if I can even put in the words that describe, ah, our relationship because it was one that, you know, you didn't talk about, but you knew it was there. I knew that any time I, you know, had questions about anything, was concerned about anything, had conflicts with anything, I could go to Dave and ask Dave, especially as it related to track. You know, 'What do you think, what do you think Dave?' and he would lend his intimate wisdom. He would just come up with the response and come up with the answer and, ah, before you knew it made me feel good about, you know, decisions that we made as far as track and field and kids and those kinds of things. If you talked to any of the other coaches and/or teachers, they probably would have some similar kinds of things to say in regards to Dave. You know, really family oriented, he loved his grandchildren and I tell ya, there wasn't a time go by that he says, whoa, we gotta track meet, and as soon as the track meet was over on Saturday, he says, "I gotta go to get those grandchildren." And I says, 'Oh Dave, better you than me man.' And he says 'Oh, I don't mind, I don't mind, you know, we'll go, they'll jump all over me for a couple of hours, I'll wear them out and put them to bed and everything' ll be OK.'
He was one of those individuals that, you know, once you meet, you never really forget. It’s one of those things that I will continue to try and do and steal some of those, ah, qualities and try and be as patient with young people as Dave has been, or as Dave was. It was good to have Dave around, as that model of humility and pride, especially as far as Columbine. I mean, he did everything: He coached. He coached track. He coached cross- country. He coached girls basketball, boys basketball. He coached softball, he, he coached baseball, he, ah, he coached football for a while. That's exactly right, it wasn't very much that Dave didn't do around Columbine."
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
I interviewed Daniels's mother, Sue Petrone, and his step-father, Rich Petrone, at their home in Littleton. We spoke for about 3 hours. They were very gracious. Daniel was shot and killed on the sidewalk, outside the cafeteria outside at Columbine High School. He and Rachel Scott were the first two students killed on April 20, 1999. Sue and Rich have a beautiful garden behind their house. At their request, the school cleaned the piece of sidewalk on which Daniel died, and they brought it over to their house and set it up in the garden for them. Sue told me that there was a swing that Daniel had love to sit on in their yard. So, she and Rich had it suspended above the sidewalk. After our interview, she took me outside to see the swing and the sidewalk. It's her special place that gives her peace and makes her feel connected to her lost son.
That was one of the most moving moments in all of my interview experiences. I'll never forget it. Sue tells the story of the swing in "A Line in the Sand".
Here is an excerpt of my interview with Sue and Rich:
Sue: Yeah, that's a hard thing to deal with. That's the one thing that I'm having a hard time dealing with. It's just that they left them there so long. You know, you're talking about our kids. Yeah, you couldn't go to them, and Danny was outside, so...
Rich: Yeah, him and Rachel were outside for, geez, over 24 hours.
Sue: They were probably dead by 11:30 on the 20th. Yeah, they were the first to die. Danny and Rachel were the first two that were shot...
Rich: The way the investigators told it.
Sue: Yeah, the way the investigators told us, Danny and Rachel were the first two that died. We don't know which one of them died first. We think it might have been Rachel, but I'm not sure, but they died before 11:30 on the 20th and they didn't take them away from the school. It was Wednesday afternoon about 2:00 or 3:00. So, they were outside over 24 hours, and it was just really hard. I mean that's the hardest thing that I still have been dealing with. It's like they just left them there, I mean, just like they were nothing. I have processed pretty much everything else, but that's the one thing left.
Rich: Well and the thought that they left Danny on the sidewalk, and every time like something was about Columbine that they showed on t.v., kids running out of the school, and they're running right by his body and you see them tripping over him or stepping over him, and you know sometimes they don't show that and it sort of depends on the footage, but it's like, you know it's not their fault.
Sue: Yeah, I mean we're not mad at the kids, it's not their fault. It's just that they should have moved them. They should have taken Danny and Rachel away because they were outside already.
Rich: They pulled the other injured kids away, so why didn't they just pull them away with the injured and then, so the kids, you know then the kids that ran by them saw them...
Sue: And they were hysterical.
Rich: They were hysterical. They saw the kids laying there, Rachel and Danny dead, so they made the kids have to see that too. One day about a month or two months later Sue read a poem that some girl wrote about running by a little boy laying on the sidewalk with his blue eyes looking up at the sky. Remember that?
Sue: Yeah, well his face was kind of blue.
Rich:It was really like, I mean it just caught us off guard.
Sue: It was in the newspaper.
Sue: It was like oh God...
Rich: She's describing Danny.
Sue: Danny, yeah, and it's like that's the one thing, it's like he went to school that morning so full of life and ambition and hope and dreams, you know just like everybody else has, and then the next time we finally got to see him was Saturday afternoon like at 4:00 in his casket.
Well, I mean, they wouldn't let me see him. I mean, I wanted to go to the morgue, but they wouldn't let me see him there. They said wait until we release his body to, which is probably, from what I heard, because Lisa is a nurse, and she says you probably wouldn't have wanted to see him that way, but I still needed to. I mean, it would have been hard to process, because it's just like we tried to find him that whole day or that whole afternoon, and then we found out the next morning, when Rich saw his picture laying on the sidewalk. That was our confirmation that he was dead.
Rich:That's how we found out he was dead.
Sue: Yeah, around 4:00 that morning, we had gone over to Clement Park to go get him, and they said that we couldn't go near the school. It was like, well, but there are all kinds of media trucks in the park, but they denied us access to the same access the media had. It's like, all I wanted to do was be close, so that when word came if I could go there, that I was right there, but the sheriff's department escorted us all away. It just made me so angry that the news could be in the parking lot of the park, media from all over the world, but yet here I am, and this is my son, and there are pictures, and this is how I found out, but you're denying me the same access, because I don't have a media credential. I wrestle with that a lot. They had their reasons I guess, but I, I, I think it was uncalled for that they left the kids at that school for that long, really.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Daniel Rohrbough, 15
I interviewed Daniel's father, Brian, on two separate occasions. Once at my hotel in Denver and a second time at his electronics shop. Brian was very angry about his son's death. He felt the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department had failed on April 20, 1999. According to him, they handled the situation very poorly, and they could have saved the lives of many of the victims if they had acted sooner and more effectively. Brian later filed a lawsuit against the JeffCo Sheriff's Department, based on the accounts of two witnesses, which claimed that a deputy had fired the fatal shot that killed Daniel, instead of Dylan Klebold. Daniel was one of the first students killed, outside the school. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed in court. Brian, along with several other families, filed a another lawsuit against The Klebolds and The Harisses for negligence. They were required to give depositions to the court, which have never been released. The victims' families received a settlement from both The Harrises and The Klebolds.
Brian told me that the shootings could have been prevented. There were many warning signs, including Eric and Dylan's arrest for breaking into a van and stealing electronics equipment a little over a year before the Columbine massacre. Brian also said that Randy and Judy Brown, parents of Columbine student Brooks Brown, had reported to the Sheriff's Department that Eric Harris had made death threats against Brooks, but the Sheriff never contacted Eric's parents to tell them about it.
Daniel was Brian's only child. They were very close. I asked Brian to tell me about his son:
"Well, the electronics, he loved to do home theater and car audio, and in his room he's got a very elaborate system based on car audio components and stuff that was going to go in his first car, and he had it all drawn up and laid out. We were going to restore an old pickup that my grandfather had for him to drive, and that's what he wanted. He wanted that. Not a newer car, you know, it's an old, basic pick-up, but that's what he wanted because of the history. And he loved the family farm and those were his interests, and he really wanted to work with me and actually had been for quite a while. He also liked computers. The design stuff is what he really liked, drawing it out, setting it up."
Then I asked Brian to tell me a favorite memory he has of Daniel:
"Um, you know, I'm fortunate because, um, all I have are good memories and things that are great, and a lot of people don't have that with their kids. You know, he worked with me. He used to tell his mom, ‘Why do I have to go to school? I'm just going to work with dad?’ He was like, ‘What do I need this for?’ Obviously, we all wish we had agreed with him, you know, but in any event we had a very interesting relationship. One of the little things was that we had fun. We're both practical jokers, and so one of the things I miss the most is I hate grocery shopping, and he hated to go with me. I mean, we all hated the thought of going, but we had fun when we got in the stores.
One of the things we did was in the paper products aisle. Everything is stacked real high, and I'd grab a roll of paper towels, and he'd look around the corner and see if there was anyone there, and then he'd go out for a pass, and I'd launch the paper towels over the aisle, and he'd run out to catch them. And every now and again, you know, he'd miss completely or knock stuff over or, you know, just catch it in front of someone coming around the corner, who would be horrified that we were doing it and throwing it, and there would be people who came up behind me, and I'd have to catch it and keep it from hitting them. You know, we had fun with that, and I really miss that. I used to tell him, ‘You know the people in security are just rolling right now watching us do this.’ So, the paper towels are one of the things I miss the most.
Another thing we did is…when he was just a little guy, they had little grocery carts. They had a big flag, yeah, and one time I went and got him one of these, and he was going just as fast as he could. He got to the end of the aisle, and he tried to turn, and the cart went just right out and knocked everything out onto the floor. He was laughing, and I was laughing, and I walked down to the end of the aisle, and there was this lady with such a sour face and so disgusted. We both looked at her and laughed even harder. You know, and it was like, if you can't have fun with your kids, you know, there's something wrong with ya, because kids are too much of a treasure.
So, yeah, I had 15 great years. How any parent could ask for more, want more yes, but ask for more, I can't imagine."
I also interviewed Sue Petrone, Daniel's mother, and Rich Petrone, Daniel's step-father.
(see next blog entry)
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Daniel Mauser, 15
On their website that celebrates his life, the Mausers describe their son:
"He was a gentle, well mannered, mature, lovable child. He was not at all reluctant to hug his parents, even as a teen--he did it often. Daniel was a tenth grader at Columbine. He was shy and reserved, not someone who'd want to speak in front of an audience, yet he joined the debate team. Daniel was a slender 5'10" and not athletic, yet he joined the cross country team at school. He had a dry sense of humor."
Daniel was shot and killed in the library at Columbine. Crystal Woodman and Lindsay Elmore, who were both in the library under tables near Daniel and survived, told me about how he was brutally murdered. These accounts are in my play, "A Line in the Sand".
I interviewed, Daniel's father, Tom, on two different occasions. First in the fall of 1999, and then again in the spring of 2000. He had taken a leave of absence from his job for a year to fight for better gun control laws. You can read about it on his website for Daniel. (see link above)
Here is an excerpt from one of our interviews:
"My role is as a victim, in speaking to people and trying to personalize this issue and say, 'This is what happens, I’m gonna humanize this and make it real clear. This could’ve been you. This could’ve been you. This could’ve been you as a parent.' It happened to be me, and people need to take action on that.
My role is not to argue with the gun rights activist, cause I’ll never change his mind, and I’ll never be able to answer all his questions and all his challenges. My role is to say we can’t settle for the status quo. We have to have a change, in our attitudes, and also we have to address the violence that’s in our movies, in our video games, that, uh, is in our schools. We have to change things. If we just accept the status quo, then Columbine won’t be the last—it’s gonna happen again. Oh, of course it is. There’s nothing we’re doing to really address it. I don’t want to see that. I’m not wishing it, but it’s going to happen again. They said it wouldn’t after Paducah, after Pearl, after Jonesboro. So, it’s probably going to happen again. It’s a question of when and how bad it’s going to be. It’s gonna take awhile for this country to turn this thing around, to really address it; because we’re not really doing anything. I mean certainly the schools are starting to take more note and trying to do something, but it’s not gonna be in the schools, it’s gonna be in the families, you know.
As much as I speak for gun control, I’m not arguing that gun control is gonna stop this. It’s just the elements of violence. We are not addressing the elements of violence and what leads to violence…and because we can't do it, because it’s so deep rooted, the one thing you can do is address the tools of violence. There is no guarantee that we’re going to be able to change the minds and hearts in a short enough time period to protect ourselves well; and since we can’t, then we have to at least somehow address the tools. Both in terms of putting background checks in, de-glorifying guns, and then taking some of the environmental things that tend to numb us and teach us that it’s okay to have and use a gun. At least try to address those. Yeah, elimination of the tools won’t happen, but at least reducing them and addressing them in a different kind of way will at least help."
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Steven Curnow, 14
Steven was a freshman at Columbine. He dreamed of being a Navy top gun and piloting an F-16. He watched "Star Wars" movies so often he could recite dialogue. Steven played soccer as a boy, and he learned to referee to earn pocket money.
Learn more about Steven....
Corey Depooter, 17
Corey loved to golf, hunt, and fish. He was a former wrestler. Corey had taken maintenance job at a golf club to save up for a boat with a friend. He was a good student.
Learn more about Corey...
Kelly Fleming, 16
Kelly was an aspiring songwriter and author. She wrote scores of poems and short stories based on her life experiences. Kelly was learning to play guitar. She had recently moved from Phoenix, and she was eager to get her driver's license and part-time job.
Learn more about Kelly...
Matthew Kechter, 16
Matt had hoped to start for the football team. He lifted weights. He was an excellent student with an A average. Matt was planning on studying engineering in college. Kechter's Columbine High School football teammates wore ribbons bearing his old jersey number, 70, at his funeral service. They dedicated the next season to his memory. Eight months later, in December of 1999, with Matt's number 70 emblazoned on their helmets, the Columbine Rebels won their first state championship.
Please go to the next post to read about the other Columbine victims...
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Cassie Bernall, 17
Active in church youth programs and Bible study groups. She was a member of West Bowles Community Church in Littleton. I interviewed the pastor there, Dave McPherson, and Cassie's father, Brad Bernall. Both men told me the story of Cassie's redemption. She was going down a very dark path, similar to that of the killers, and the her experience on a particular church youth group trip saved her. She found her faith in Christ, and became the happy, loving girl that was murdered in the library.
The Bernalls have written a book about Cassie's transformation called "She Said Yes." Accounts from students in the library said that one of the killers asked her if she believed in God. She said,"Yes", and they shot her in the head. This was disputed later in the official Columbine report. Other witnesses said it was injured survivor Valeen Schnurr who had said it. It was later reported that several students in the library were asked the question.
Here is an excerpt from my inteview with Brad Bernall in 1999. I spoke to him at West Bowles Community Church, the place that had changed Cassie's life:
"They released her to the funeral home and that was, uh, that was the first time we got to...See I'd called the funeral home and, um, you know, just told them that we needed to see Cassie. I said, you know, don't bother doing anything to her, you know, clean her up a little and then call us as soon as you can. Just do the very minimum so we can get over there and, and see her. And they did. And we, we finally got over the funeral home probably, it was after dark so it was probably about 8:00 or 8:30, and they led us to a room where, where Cassie was on a little gurney and, uh, they had washed her hair and put a towel over her hair, and she was just covered with a sheet. Um, and it was, she looked, she looked good. I expected, I expected the worst, you know, since she'd taken a shotgun shot to the head I expected just something awful. But it wasn't. Her face was intact and, um, she even had good skin color. I was so surprised. She looked good. But it's...I wanted to hold her and kiss her, and I did because it was so hard mostly because she was cold. She had been in a refrigerator and her body was so cold. Um, Misty came in, um, and touched her foot, her foot was sticking out, and when she felt the coldness of her foot she just dropped, right there, down to the floor. Just broke down and lost it, you know. It was difficult for both of us, but it was something we had to do. And the next few days we did as much as we could, um...I've always been a hands-on dad. I wanted to make sure that I was, I closed the coffin, I cut the locks of her hair off her head, um, did all that sort of thing. Misty and I both said our goodbyes at the funeral home like the day before the funeral, closed the lid, and that was, that was the last time we saw her. "
To learn more about Cassie's life and "She Said Yes", please go to the Bernall's website: www.cassierenebernall.org
Please go to the next post to read more about the Columbine victims.
Monday, April 20, 2009
It was one of the saddest days in recent U.S. history.
It forever marked a community and a nation.
And it changed the direction of my life.
I am grateful to all the members of the Columbine community who chose to speak with me in 1999-2000, especially the parents of the victims and the Columbine students, the survivors.
Today, let us remember the victims:
Cassie Bernall (age 17)
Steven Curnow (age 14)
Corey Depooter (age 17)
Kelley Fleming (age 16)
Matthew Kechter (age 16)
Daniel Mauser (age 15)
Daniel Rohrbough (age 15)
Rachel Scott (age 17)
Isaiah Shoels (age 18)
John Tomlin (age 16)
Lauren Townsend (age 18)
Kyle Velasquez (age 16)
William “Dave” Sanders (age 47)
R.I.P. We are all Columbine.
see this great article and others on www.denverpost.com
more to come.....
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Here's a few more photos from the "lie-in".
Tomorrow, is the 10th anniversary of Columbine. I can't believe it's been 10 years. I never thought when I was doing my interviews back in 1999, that 10 years later I would still be performing my play, and sadly, needing to perform it, because very little has changed since then.
I did a run through rehearsal today for a performance I'm doing at City College on the 29th. It felt good to step inside the characters again, but it was also said think about what they went through. I hope they are in a much better place today.
Tonight, in Clement Park in Denver, at the Columbine Memorial, there will be a candlelight vigil for the victims and their families. see video.
My thoughts and prayers are with them.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Today was an inspiring day. Very sad, yet inspiring. Blue skies over Times Square. Sunshine. Birds flying above the giant TV screens. The second anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. At noon, in front of the Marriott Marquis Hotel, I met up with 31 other people to protest easy access to guns in America. 32 of us formed two lines. We were all dressed in black, wearing orange and burgundy ribbons (the school colors for Virginia Tech). One at a time, we each read the name of a victim from a piece of paper we were given.
When my turn came, I read, "Jeremy Herbstritt, age 27, a masters student in civil engineering form Bellafonte, Pennsylvania."
Then, I lay down on the sidewalk. I closed my eyes and listened to the names of the other victims being read, trying to imagine what their lives must have been like, and how their families must be feeling today. Students, professors, even a Holocaust survivor, all with so much to look forward to...
After all the names were read, we lay there in silence for three minutes, the amount of time it took for the Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, to purchase his gun.
Three minutes. As long as it takes to buy a pack of gum.
The dealer ran a background check during those three minutes, which failed to reveal that Cho had a history of mental illness.
The event was organized by New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, assisted by Protest Easy Guns and Million Mom March.
There was great media coverage: CNN, Fox News, and some local stations. There were several speakers at the beginning, including, Jackie Hilly, Executive Director of NYAGV, Helen Rosenthal from Protest Easy Guns, Gloria Cruz, head of the Bronx chapter of MMM, NY State Senator, Eric Schneiderman, and Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer (see photo).
The most moving moment for me was hearing the tragic stories of two moms from the Bronx, who had lost their sons to gun violence. Both young men were going about their daily lives, minding their own business, and they ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught in the middle of gunshots intended for someone else. As she spoke of her son being murdered at a neighborhood party, one of the moms had tears rolling down her cheeks.
I didn't know what to say. What can you say, except, "I'm so sorry, " which always feels inadequate.
In both cases, the killers were never brought to justice, because no one in the neighborhood wanted to snitch.
The other mom told me, "There is no justice, and there is no closure. Even if the killer went to jail. He'll get out after 5 to 10 years, and it won't bring my son back."
Both of these moms are coping by working at a grassroots level to change things for the better in their communities.
What could me more inspiring than that?
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
It’s time. I need to start a blog. Reach out to a bigger community.
On April 20th, 1999, at Columbine High School, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 classmates and a teacher, before killing themselves. They wounded 23 others. I, like so many Americans, was shocked and deeply disturbed watching the media coverage that horrible day. I felt I had to do something. So, I left New York City and flew out to Littleton, Colorado to talk to members of the community. I needed to know why this had happened. Over the span of a year, I made seven trips, and I spoke with more than 60 people, including injured students, a young woman who was friends with both the killers and one of the victims, the parents of the only black student who was murdered, police officers, the pastor at the scene, teachers, and reporters.
I titled my play, “A Line in the Sand” because I felt that, back in 1999, Columbine had finally gotten our attention about gun violence in America. A line in the sand had been drawn. Surely, Congress and the President would insist on sensible gun laws, close the gun show loophole on a federal level, and not allow the assault weapons ban to expire. Surely, we would stop the madness and prevent more senseless deaths. We would protect our children.
We are just a few days from the 10th anniversary of Columbine. 10 years and more than 60 school shootings later, my question is: Have we learned anything? I am sad to say I don’t think we have. We stepped right over the line in the sand. Bulldozed over it. This has become national crisis. And most of us, including Congress, look the other way. They have more urgent crises to deal with, and they are afraid of the NRA.
In his excellent article in the New York Times yesterday, Bob Herbert wrote, “Since Sept. 11, 2001 nearly 120,000 Americans have been killed in non-terror homicides, most of them committed with guns. That’s nearly 25 times the number of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the most part we pay no attention to this relentless carnage. So what if eight kids are shot to death every day in America. So what if someone is killed by a gun every 17 minutes.”
To end on a more positive note, I think the most important question we can now ask is, “What are we going to do, together, for all the children in this country?”
For my part, I will continue to perform my play in high schools, with the goals of stimulating dialogue, creating awareness, and preventing future school violence.
Since 1999, I have become a mother. Twice. I have two beautiful daughters, Emma and Madeleine, 3 years and 11 months, respectively. It is more important than ever to me that they grow up in a safer, less violent society, and that when they reach the age to attend college, their classmates and teachers won’t be allowed to bring concealed guns on campus for self-defense.
Tomorrow, April 16, I am participating in a “lie-in” protest in Times Square to mark the second anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. 32 people from around the New York area will lie down on the ground for three minutes in silence, the amount of time it took for the Virginia Tech shooter to purchase his gun.
What are you going to do?
I look forward to hearing from you.
To learn more about “A Line in the Sand”, please visit my website:
Tomorrow’s lie-in protest is being organized by New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Protest Easy Guns, and Million Mom March NY.