Saturday, May 23, 2009

Reflections: April 20, 2009: Columbine, 10 years Later (Part 7)

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

Reflections: April 20, 2009: Columbine, 10 years Later (Part 6)

Daniel Rohrbough (Continued)

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.

Rich: Yeah.

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

Reflections: April 20, 2009: Columbine, 10 years Later (Part 5)

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

Reflections: April 20, 2009: Columbine, 10 years Later (Part 4)

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

Reflections: April 20, 2009: Columbine, 10 years Later (Part 3)

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...