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Graphic by K.J. Rigli/Bonneville Denver
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Standing united 20 years later: Reflections on a post-Columbine world

Graphic by K.J. Rigli/Bonneville Denver

In April 1999, I was 11 years old, just a fifth-grader at Heritage Elementary School — in the newly-founded city of Centennial — roughly 11 miles due east of Columbine High School.

Most of my days involved obsessing over the recently-crowned two-time Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos instead of paying attention in class or playing videos games in my basement instead of practicing piano.

I used to dread the lessons my parents signed me up just a few months earlier. Tuesdays, 4:00 p.m., at Mrs. Paulsen’s house (who, by the way, may have been the sweetest old lady on the planet).

And that Tuesday, which we remember two decades later this weekend, was just like any other: School, then home, then off to butcher my major and minor scales for an hour.

I remember not learning of what would become, at the time, the deadliest high school shooting in United States history until after school. The extent — 13 murdered, 23 wounded, and countless forever physically and emotionally scarred — we wouldn’t find out until much later.

“Have you heard about what’s happening at Columbine?” I remember asking my piano teacher.

She hadn’t.

That would change, as would a great many things to come.

As the Denver metro area found itself in a state of fear and unrest this week amid the unknown whereabouts of an 18-year-old woman “infatuated” with the Columbine massacre, I couldn’t help but experience a flood of memories from two decades ago.

My aunt trying to reach my mother, concerned if anyone we knew, myself included, had been involved in the school shooting in Littleton. She knew the city was very near where we lived.

My brother, just a year removed from high school himself, watching from his college campus in Nebraska as the horrors of that day unfolded.

The first lockdown drill my peers and I ever experienced. There were more as the era of school shootings became increasingly a part of the reality of growing up in the 21st century.

But as we reflect back on that Tuesday in April 1999, I can’t help but think that those who perpetrated such a heinous act, consciously or subconsciously, intended to divide us as a community.

They failed.

As we did in the days, weeks and months following the Columbine shooting, we stood united. United in comforting those who lost loved ones, in rebuilding a shattered community, in honoring those who were no longer with us because of a senseless act of violence.

My perspective is not unique. Far from it. And it’s certainly not as harrowing as the many directly afflicted.

But having lived through this tragedy, I’m confident in believing we will continue to, forever, stand united in defiance of those acting to divide us.

In loving memory of Cassie Bernall, Steven Curnow, Corey DePooter, Kelly Fleming, Matthew Kechter, Daniel Mauser, Daniel Rohrbough, William “Dave” Sanders, Rachel Scott, Isaiah Shoels, John Tomlin, Lauren Townsend and Kyle Velasquez.

Follow digital content producer Johnny Hart on Twitter: @JohnnyHart7.