Principal still works to heal 15 years after Columbine shootings

JEFFERSON COUNTY – Maybe the best way to peek into the life of Frank DeAngelis since the tragedy is to look at the hundreds of pictures placed on his office walls.

"Even though there are things up here that represent sorrow," DeAngelis, Columbine High School Principal, said. "It also represents strength."

His wall is a visual chronicle of the people who stood by his side and a reminder of those who needed him by theirs.

"This one is Red Lake, the Indian Reservation where shootings occurred and over here is Chardon (Ohio). Down below is Virginia Tech," DeAngelis said while referring to his wall.

Of all the names and faces on this wall, there is only person who was with DeAngelis in this office the very moment two students entered the school killing 12 classmates and one teacher while injuring dozens more.

"It was in April when Frank said, 'Hey, come by my office," Kiki Leyba, said.

At the time, Leyba was a first-year English teacher hoping to hear the news that DeAngelis was going to offer him a continuing contract for the next year. It was around 11:00 a.m., April 20, 1999.

"It was coming over the radio, there shots fired in the commons," Leyba said. "I could remember looking down that long hallway and down at the end of the hall, I could see the silhouette of someone holding a long gun."

In the library, a student, Pat Ireland was sitting with his friends when hell broke loose.

"Pipe bombs are being thrown. It almost feels like the ground is shaking," Ireland said. "Then, (the shooters) come in."

Ireland says he still thinks about it every day.

"I'd been shot twice in the head and once in the foot and one of the buck shots travelled through the left side of my brain," Ireland said.

Ireland's struggle to survive led to one of the iconic moments of this terrible day. He was captured on live television trying to crawl out of a window of the library which had already been shot out. Ireland was known as the "Boy in the Window."

"You know, I was 17 when the shooting happened," Ireland said. "It's almost been a lifetime ago."

It has been a long time since students Cassie Bernall, Steve Curnow, Corey DePooter, Kelly Fleming, Matt Kechter, Daniel Mauser, Daniel Rohrbough, Rachel Scott, Isaiah Shoels, John Tomlin, Lauren Townsend, and Kyle Velasquez were killed. A teacher, DeAngelis' good friend, Dave Sanders was also shot dead.

"For days when I say, 'Gosh, why didn't I retire? I look up and I see the picture of Dave or I see the names of the 13," DeAngelis said.

At first, DeAngelis vowed to stay at Columbine until all the freshman graduated. Then, he decided to stay until all the students in the area as young as kindergarten had graduated from high school. That happened in 2012. DeAngelis finally announced his plans to retire at the end of this school year.

"Wow, Frank's leadership has made all the difference in this," Leyba said.

Leyba says the community was rebuilt with DeAngelis' personal strength as the cornerstone.

"Frank was our voice and he took all the heat from the media, accusations, named in lawsuits," Leyba said.

Ireland says DeAngelis made helped everyone believe that this community can heal.

"I don't think anybody would've blamed him for leaving, but I think that him not leaving showed his level of perseverance and dedication."

DeAngelis believes he survived and stayed for a reason.

"God's got a plan for you," DeAngelis said. "Go and rebuild that school."

But, he not only stayed for others.

"He's just that guy who's willing to shoulder it, to take it on, that sense of duty and responsibility and commitment and devotion," Leyba said.

DeAngelis stayed at Columbine for himself, too.

"If I would've left, I would have struggled," DeAngelis said. "I needed this place. As much as they say they needed me, I needed them even more."

The wounds are still there, DeAngelis said. But, so is the hope. He says anyone can see it right there on his office wall.

"The reason I have all these pictures up is it constantly reminds me how blessed my life has been," DeAngelis said.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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