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Columbine High Remembers Victims of School Shooting

By Julie Cart
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- DENVER

On a balmy spring day much like the one last year, the students and staff of Columbine High remembered their slain classmates and teacher Thursday -- and attempted amid the cameras and microphones to privately mark the one-year anniversary of the nation’s worst school shooting.

Church bells throughout Denver tolled 13 times at 11:21 a.m., a year-to-the-minute that distress calls began to flood from the school in suburban Littleton, Colo. Inside, two teenagers rampaged through the halls, tossing bombs, shooting and in the end killing 12 students and one teacher. They then turned their guns on themselves.

Gov. Bill Owens ordered all flags to be lowered to half staff Thursday, called for a state-wide minute of silence and led a memorial on the steps of the state Capitol. It was just one of scores of services here that marked the anniversary many had dreaded for weeks.

Meanwhile, a flurry of lawsuits were filed late Wednesday, rushing to beat a one-year deadline imposed on taking legal action against peace officers. Fifteen families of victims filed suits against the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, alleging negligence. Later deadlines loom for suits against government agencies and others.

Two of the lawsuits were sharply critical of the actions of law enforcement officers and claimed that their lack of response led to the death of a student and teacher. The family of Daniel Rohrbough claimed that the 15-year-old was killed by a sheriff’s bullet as he lay wounded on the sidewalk in front of the school. The daughter of teacher Dave Sanders alleged in her suit that inaction by authorities caused Sanders to bleed to death.

Although school officials here had feared potential violence on the Columbine anniversary, no problems were reported. Elsewhere, schools were closed in nearby Aurora, as were some in New Mexico, New Hampshire and Wisconsin because of threats.

The biggest concern here was the flood of memories unleashed by the weeklong focus on the massacre -- which has made Littleton synonymous with youthful violence. Many students and families chose to leave town rather than face the reminders. Attendance at Columbine has been off by one-third all week.

No classes were held Thursday, and attendance at a morning assembly was optional. About 1,000 students, staff and alumni attended, school officials said. Counselors at Columbine Thursday said some of the students returned to the place in the school where they were when the shooting began.

At an afternoon service at a park adjacent to Columbine, a crowd of about 2,500 sat in the sun and listened to music and speeches. Principal Frank DeAngelis tearfully began by reading the names of the 13 dead.

Emphasizing that the school had grown stronger as a result of the shootings, DeAngelis said: “The Columbine community has been chosen to make the world a better place.”

Teacher Patti Nielson, who made the widely broadcast frantic 911 call from the school library, told of huddling in a cupboard for hours. She spoke of survivor’s guilt and anger.

“I want to make today the day that I let go of the anger and give myself permission to be happy again,” she said.