LITTLETON, Colo. — Shortly after 12 students and one teacher were killed at his own school on April 20, 1999, Columbine High School principal Frank DeAngelis attended a symposium sponsored by FBI Profilers and criminal psychologists.
“I remember saying, ‘I hope those 13 did not die in vain,’” DeAngelis said. “‘I hope this is the last school shooting we ever have to read about.’
“I was being naïve.”
DeAngelis said he came to that realization after speaking to a psychologist, who approached him after he was finished speaking.
“He said, ‘Frank, I can assure you there is someone out there planning something just as devastating as what happened at your school,’” DeAngelis said.
These last six months, DeAngelis watched as those words became far too prophetic.
In his own state, 12 were killed in a movie theater on July 20. On Aug. 5, six were killed at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc. And last Friday, 26 were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Like many, the latest tragedy hit DeAngelis hard. Not just because it was another school shooting, but because of the fact that the majority of those slain were children no older than 7 years old.
“Immediately I thought of my grandson, who I’d spent the weekend with, and the poor little kids sitting in a classroom who had their lives taken away,” DeAngelis said.
And immediately, DeAngelis reached out to the 25 employees still working at his school who were at Columbine with him on that fateful April day in 1999.
“We relived what we went through on April 20, 1999,” DeAngelis said. “We checked in on each other first. Then we immediately checked in on the safety of all of our own kids at Columbine. We care so deeply about those kids.”
But what is the answer to keeping them safe?
Is it metal detectors, security cameras, giving weapons to teachers and training them how to shoot?
In DeAngelis’ mind, the answer to all those questions is a resounding no.
“I truly believe that we need to come up with programs to identify troubled youth – kids who are crying out for help,” DeAngelis said. “They do not just enter into this life hating people. Something happened in their lives that led them to develop a mentality that does not respect the property and lives of innocent people.”
As bleak as outlooks may become after tragedies such as the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, DeAngelis urged his community and the rest of the country not to lose heart.
“We hear a lot about tragedies like the one that just took place in Connecticut, and each one is truly heartbreaking,” DeAngelis said. “But it’s important to remember that we have indeed stopped many violent acts from happening since Columbine.
“And those efforts continue every day.”