‘We take care of each other’ – Daily Press

DENVER – Twenty-five years ago, Michelle DiManna was sitting in the math office at Columbine High School, grading papers and talking to a colleague when she heard students screaming in fear.

Two heavily armed gunmen had entered a Jefferson County school late in the morning of April 20, 1999, and proceeded to kill 12 of their classmates and a teacher, wounding dozens of others in a tragedy that shocked Colorado and the nation.

The shooting, which ended with the two killers committing suicide, reshaped school safety in the United States and served as a precursor to the litany of mass murders that have occurred across the country in recent decades — so much so that the school remains named Columbine synonymous with school shootings.

But what happened next, after DiManna fled the building with her colleagues and students, is also part of Columbine’s legacy, the one that 25 years later both current and former employees talk about most: the resilience and hope that endure. ​in a community. marked by one of the deadliest school shootings in American history.

“We take care of each other,” DiManna, who still teaches high school math, said in a recent interview. “You don’t really leave your family after trauma – and that’s what Columbine is.”

And that’s why the 53-year-old, who will retire at the end of this academic year, has spent her entire career at Columbine despite this tragedy. DiManna is one of 15 current Columbine employees who were employees or students at the time of the shooting.

As Jeffco Public Schools marked the 25th anniversary of the shooting, officials held a media day earlier this month with Columbine and district staff to talk about the school safety changes taking place nationwide in the aftermath of the shooting, such as lockdown drills and the founding of Safe2Tell. , Colorado’s anonymous statewide student reporting system.

A lot has changed in 25 years. Those who were students at the time of the shooting have become parents, and the students now in high school classrooms are too young to remember the tragedy, having been born years later.

One thing hasn’t changed, though: On April 20 at 11:20 a.m. — around the time the shooting began — former principal Frank DeAngelis meets with families and staff at the school to read the names of the twelve students. teacher who died that day: Cassie Bernall, Steven Robert Curnow, Corey Depooter, Kelly Fleming, Matt Kechter, Daniel Mauser, Danny Rohrbough, Dave Sanders, Rachel Scott, Isaiah Shoels, John Tomlin, Lauren Townsend and Kyle Velasquez.

“Columbine represents a time we will never forget,” said DeAngelis, who served as principal for nearly two decades and has made it his mission to rebuild the school after the shooting and help its students through the trauma .

DeAngelis retired in 2014, two years after fulfilling a promise he made after the attack to remain as principal until all students at the Columbine feeder schools at the time of the shooting had graduated.

“Columbine also represents hope,” he said. “Columbine is strong.”

The day has also become an annual day of service where students and staff give back to the community through volunteer projects.

“The community came together and made it stronger,” said current director Scott Christy, adding, “I hope Columbine is a place of hope for those who have experienced tragedy.”

On the day of the shooting, DiManna was a 28-year-old who was in her fifth year of teaching at Columbine, a school from which she also graduated in 1989.

For DiManna, the moments after she heard screaming were as follows: A teacher pulled a fire alarm to evacuate the building. Her sister Kim, a senior, found her and DiManna told her to leave, but she didn’t do so herself until she helped evacuate the math department classrooms.

DiManna found her sister outside again, where they saw an injured student at a stoplight before entering a house across the street, where she called her husband.

Residents opening their doors to students and staff fleeing the shooting isn’t the only thing DiManna remembers. She also remembers that in the days that followed, youth ministries helped care for students, regardless of whether they were members of their church or not.

“I don’t know how many communities could care for children like ours,” she said.

At the time, the Columbine shooting was the deadliest K-12 school shooting in American history. There had been no school massacres in Newtown, Connecticut, Parkland, Florida, or Uvalde, Texas.

In other words, not many people knew what the school shooting survivors had experienced and how it would affect them in the years that followed. They couldn’t understand how routine fire drills could be a trigger for Columbine survivors, how lockdown drills could cause panic, or how every April fear also arises about what might happen, DiManna said.

That’s also why DiManna stayed at Columbine. The support the community provides hasn’t stopped 25 years ago, she said.

Christy, the school’s principal, checks on staff members who were at Columbine in 1999 every time there is another school shooting or anything else that might upset them, DiManna said.

“We just pick each other up,” she said. “You always knew that if you had one of those days, or if something happened, you had someone to talk to.”

The reason DiManna returned to Columbine after the shooting is also simple.

“I wanted to teach,” she said.