JEFFERSON COUNTY – Of all the days of the year, April 20 is always the toughest for Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis.
"There's not a day that I don't wake up that I don't think about what happened," DeAngelis said.
When DeAngelis announced plans to retire at the end of this school year, 9NEWS launched a project to follow DeAngelis from the first day of school this year through the last. The project is called "Rebel with a Cause."
A Columbine memorial that flies under the radar. 9NEWS at 9 p.m. 05/21/14.
In 2014, April 20 fell on Easter Sunday. Yet, DeAngelis was at the school to open it up for victims and their families to come if they want. Two students shot and killed 12 classmates and one teacher while injuring 24 others in 1999, so that day will always be a day of remembrance.
"The thing that I've learned over the years is I have to respect everyone for where they are at this particular time," DeAngelis said. "Each family deals with this day differently."
Craig Scott lost his sister Rachel that day. He also witnessed his classmates being killed in the school's library while nearly dying himself. Every year, Scott and his family go up to the school at the exact time Rachel Scott was shot.
"We'll go up to the back entrance where Rachel was killed, and Mr. De will meet us right there," Scott said.
DeAngelis feels that it is duty to be there for the families, even if it means reliving the pain.
"I do have flashbacks to what happened on April 20," DeAngelis said. "What I remember that day running out of my office is it was very quiet which was very unusual."
The memories are still difficult now for DeAngelis and Scott.
"I miss her. I miss her," Scott said. "I carry her memory with me, and it serves as fuel as I go forward."
Every year on April 20, DeAngelis will walk the same path he took that day.
"What I remember coming in is just seeing an empty hallway with a gunman coming towards me," DeAngelis said. "When I walk down that hallway, it does take my back."
But, April 20 is not about reliving the past for DeAngelis and Scott. They say it is about honoring it.
Every year, no matter what day of the week, DeAngelis cancels classes on April 20. Every year, he reads a tribute over the intercom to the victims to empty hallways.
"In remembrance, I will now read the names of our 13 loved ones who tragically lost their lives on April 20, 1999," DeAngelis says into the microphone. "Cassie Bernall, Steven Curnow, Corey DePooter, Kelly Fleming, Matt Kechter, Daniel Mouser, Danny Rohrbough, Dave Sanders, Rachel Scott, Isaiah Shoels, John Tomlin, Lauren Townsend, Kyle Velasquez."
No matter what day of the year April 20th falls, Frank DeAngelis cancels classes to honor the anniversary day of the tragic shootings. Every year, he reads a solemn tribute to the 12 students and 1 teacher killed, though no one is there to hear it.
DeAngelis says he reads the tribute for the victims themselves.
"I know that they're looking down upon us," DeAngelis said. "The 13 are giving me strength to walk into this building every day. They're giving me strength to pursue a better life."
Every year, DeAngelis tries to be a rock for the community keeping his promise to stay all these years since the shootings.
"It didn't matter who was a senior, who was a freshman, who was on the football team, who was in the band. None of that mattered. We were just surviving together," Scott said. "Those little differences got put aside, and we became unified, and I think that's something Mr. DeAngelis did."
He did it, and still does it, because he never wants anything like this to happen again.
"One of the things that was so difficult for me was being named in eight lawsuits, and it wasn't about me. It was more that I felt so badly thinking that there were people out there that felt I had hand in what happened that day," DeAngelis said. "One of the things that I work on, my kids know I love them. When people question that said 'I had no idea who my kids were' and 'I don't care about them,' that hurt."
Of all the days of the year, DeAngelis wants to be there for all of them.
"I think that if we had a principal that had bailed or had left, I think it would've been harder," Scott said.
Stories on DeAngelis will run through Thursday on 4 p.m. at 9NEWS and 9NEWS at 9 p.m. At 9 p.m. on June 7, 9NEWS will air a one hour documentary called "Rebel with a Cause" which includes expanded material not seen in the previously-aired stories.
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