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“Never Forgotten”-Even Ten Years Later

April 20th, 2009

Filed under Life

One Comment

A mourner stands on the hilltop  above Clement Park and Columbine High School  and reflects on his own during a memorial service held at the park.

A mourner stands on the hilltop above Clement Park and Columbine High School and reflects during a vigil held after the tragedy.

This site is normally reserved for fun, crazy, light-hearted and exciting episodes in my life and my photographic career. But today I pause in remembrance of those that lost their lives at Columbine High School on this date ten years ago. My prayers go out to all those families and to all of us that were touched in some way by this unconscionable event.

The Columbine tragedy on April 20, 1999 and the week that followed was the most difficult assignment I have probably covered in my entire career.

I was busy in my office that day when I received a call from TIME magazine west coast photo editor Martha Bardack who very urgently asked if I was aware of the “shooting” in the Denver Metro area. I was not aware but immediately tuned into the local network coverage which had started its reporting just minutes earlier and quickly ascertained where I needed to go. Within minutes I had my photo equipment and was racing toward southwest Denver and Columbine High School. Since I had covered many news events through the years I was not only aware of the magnitude of this  type of event but  also the personal tragedies that were unfolding. Listening to the car radio gave me relatively good details on what was transpiring. It became  evident that I would not be able to  get anywhere near the high school and I remember somewhere in the back of my mind of almost being relieved.

Leawood Elementary School had been designated as the staging area for families attempting to reconnect with their children from Columbine.

I recall approaching the front lawn of the elementary school and seeing clusters of adults and  teenagers scurrying around, grabbing one another, hugging, wailing, crying and shouting out names. It was sheer madness.  As the crowds grew so did the forlorn, desperate faces of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandparents and neighbors. An entire community had just been brought to its knees. Agony, shock, disbelief and panic were etched on every face.

As the event continued to progress many questions were still not answered. Who was missing and where are they now?   How many casualties were there? Can we go to the high school? How long before we know everything is alright? It was a dizzying and unimaginable scenario.

Names of  students present and  being held in Leawood’s gymnasium were being posted in an effort to reunite parents with their kids.

For as long as I live I will never forget the horror molded onto the face of one woman escorted and comforted by a man as she desperately tried to come to grips with this horrendous development and her overwhelming fears as she tried to find her child.

The following day, as the news sank in and grabbed hold of everyone’s soul, I returned this time to Clement Park, virtually a stones throw from Columbine High School. This park and the surrounding acreage would be my destination as I continued my documentation of this historic event.

A young couple comfort one another at a Clement Park tribute site

A young couple comfort one another at a Clement Park tribute

A father comforts his daughter as they look at tributes left on a Clement Park fence as another visitor weeps.

A father comforts his daughter as they look at tributes left on a Columbine fence as another visitor weeps.

Covering this type of news has always troubled me. Each day became harder to return. The remorse, the inner struggles, the sadness and the anxiety of trying to make story-telling images with dignity and respect started eating at me. I , like most photojournalists, want to inform and educate at every opportunity. But what I was discovering was how this tragedy was affecting me personally.

I would be crying and expelling deep breaths every day I came back to Clement. I could not sleep at night and finally about the third day my resistance withered away. I was stricken with strep. I couldn’t give up. I told myself I had to get through the week and the memorial services scheduled in the upcoming days.

Understand,this wasn’t a morbid curiosity  on my part but a commitment to document a social injustice that terrified a community and begged for answers from each individual.

As each day passed at Clement the tears continued to flow, the hugs were longer, the mourners continued to arrive by the hundreds. Cards of sympathy, posters of pronouncements, flowers, teddy bears and other mementos became like waves of texture and color in an open sea.

I covered the final public memorials with shaky hands and teary eyes. And then like everyone I had to move on. I still have weird feelings when I drive by Clement Park or see the hilltop  where mourners placed crosses.

Today is only the second time  I have looked at my photos since the tragedy.

The purpose of this message is to never forget  our loved ones, live every day to the fullest and continue to seek peace.

The community came together for one final tribute to the victims of Columbine.

The community came together for one final tribute to the victims of Columbine.

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One Comment for ““Never Forgotten”-Even Ten Years Later”

  1. Great blog you got here…keep up the good work.

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