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COLUMBINE TWO DECADES ON: FAMILY MEMBERS PAY HEARTFELT TRIBUTE TO LOVED ONES KILLED IN HIGH SCHOOL MASS SHOOTING ON ANNIVERSARY

By Jasmine Kazlauskas


The family members of those killed in the Columbine High School massacre have paid tribute to their loved ones on the 23rd anniversary of the tragedy.

On the morning of April 20 1999, 12 students and one teacher left their houses to attend Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, USA, just as they did on any other regular Tuesday – but tragically, none of them would make it home.

At 11:21am, killers Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, began gunning down their fellow students and teachers at random, with the barbaric attack leaving 13 innocent people dead and 24 wounded, while the gunmen ended their own lives.

Now on the 23rd anniversary of the massacre, family members of the victims have come together to pay tribute to their loved ones lost in the tragedy, to keep their memories alive.

Devoted dad Tom Mauser, 70, says his son Daniel, 15, was a gentle, intelligent, and easy-going teenager who loved playing chess and video games, while he also did exceptionally well in school as a straight-A student in his sophomore year.

The retired father-of-three said: “The day started no differently to any other. Sometime around noon, a co-worker told me something was happening at Columbine High School.

“We were all gathered around the television, and I heard that shots had been fired. Then came images of students fleeing the school grounds, and parents hugging terrified teenagers.

“I wasn’t overly concerned at first. This was Columbine High School, after all. And even if there was a shooting, Daniel would not be involved.

“He was a good kid, and there were 2,000 students at Columbine. He was just one of 2,000.”

Tom and his wife Linda grew more concerned as the day went on and they had not heard from Daniel or received word of his whereabouts.

It was not until noon the following day, the 21st of April 1999, that they received the news that no parent ever wants to hear: their son Daniel, had been killed.

Tom recalled: “Using the description Linda had given them, they were able to positively identify him. Our son was dead.

“I thought, how the hell could he be dead? All we did was send him to school.

“We entered a parent’s ultimate nightmare, from which there was no escape. It became painfully obvious that our lives were about to change in a dramatic way.”

Tom has since become a strong gun control activist and has shared his experiences in his book ‘Walking in Daniel’s Shoes’, which detailed his journey through grief, controversy, activism, and healing following Daniel’s death.

He added: “Whenever I hear of another mass shooting, it takes me back, and I think of the parents of other victims and what they’re going to be going through.

“Columbine did not happen because the killers were bullied.  That was a very small factor.

“They wanted to kill as many students as they could, not specific ones that bullied them.

“These were two mentally disturbed kids, one a psychopath and one very depressed, and it can happen to any parent if they are not adequately tuned in to their kids.”

Sue Townsend, 73, of Littleton, Colorado, recalls how she rushed over to Columbine High School, where her stepdaughter Lauren Townsend, 18, was a senior, when she heard about the shooting.

According to Sue, Lauren was a beautiful young woman who had a big heart and loved animals, and was planning to major in wildlife biology at college.

 

She too had hoped her stepdaughter was simply hiding from the chaos and was safe, but sadly – she and Lauren’s father Rick were soon given the devastating news that she had been killed.

Sue, who first met Lauren when she was six years old and married her father two years later, said: “There was always something special about Lauren.

“I believe she was what they call ‘an old soul’. She had an insight and perspective of the world that was far beyond her years.

“She accepted life and people just the way they were and radiated love for all living things.

“It is hard to describe what goes through your mind when something like this happens.  For me, the world slowed down and there was a sense of being in a dream.

“There was turmoil in the pit of my stomach that felt like too much emotion swirling around.  It is a feeling I get every year around the Columbine anniversary or when there is another mass shooting.”

Sue and Rick, along with other family members of those killed in the tragedy, were pivotal in getting the Columbine High School library – which was the site of most of the carnage – pulled down and replaced.

She explained: “All the families impacted by this tragedy received an outpouring of support from around the world.

“But the thing that helped Rick and me the most was coming together with the parents of the other victims and building a new library at the school.

“At a gathering of parents in June of 1999, one of the fathers brought a rendering of the ‘remodelled’ library that was to be completed before school opened the following August.

“The changes were minor; move a door, paint, and replace the furniture and carpeting.  The unanimous consensus of the group was that plan was unacceptable.

“How could future students at Columbine ever study in the space where so much evil had taken place?

“The families wanted to have a school where all students would feel comfortable in all areas of the campus.  We also wanted to respect the space where so many of our children had died.

“Over the next several months, this dedicated group of volunteers raised $3.1 million dollars to fund the removal of the old library and build a brand-new library.”

On each anniversary of the tragedy, Sue and Rick visit the graves of the victims to pay their respects.

She said: “Each year on April 20 1999, Rick and I spend the day together visiting the cemeteries where all the victims are buried and deliver a rose to each grave.

“We then meet the parents of Lauren’s best friend for dinner.  I truly believe Lauren would be pleased with how we are honouring her memory.

“When our whole family is together for family dinner or celebrating a holiday, I sometimes feel like she is smiling down on us.

“I believe Lauren shared her legacy with us in a passage she wrote in her diary shortly before she died.

“The passage is inscribed on her plaque at the memorial. The last line reads, ‘For, in the end, all there is, is love’.”

During the violent massacre, brave teacher Dave Sanders, 47, courageously stayed behind to help his students to safety – a decision that ultimately cost him his life.

His loving daughter, Cynthia Smith, 50, says her father is remembered in the community as a hero who loved his family and adored his students.

The mum-of-two said: “My biggest lesson from Columbine is to live every day to the fullest, as you just never know when it might be your last.

“The morning of the shooting, I drove over to my mum’s house and was watching the live coverage on television in complete shock.

“We were waiting for Dave to come running out of the school like everyone else, but there was no sign of him.

“I drove as close to the school as I could get, and I was yelling to the teachers that were there if they knew where Dave Sanders was.

“I was told he’d been shot, and that he was in the hospital. But that was not correct, he was bleeding to death inside the school.

“He had multiple opportunities to escape the school, but he didn’t. He stayed there with the students to ensure they were safe.

“We had heard his body was in the school, but it wasn’t until the following day, April 21st, that we received official confirmation from the police.”

Cynthia remained in Littleton, Colorado, for 18 years after the Columbine tragedy until moving to Oregon in 2017, to help her heal from the sadness she felt in the town.

She now helps keep her father’s memories alive by posting about his life on her YouTube channel, ‘Trauma Survivor Cynthia’.

She said: “Dave touched so many lives. He was just a beautiful, caring, and loving man.

“There are no words to accurately describe him, he is an absolute hero. He did everything for his students.

“I think God chose the best teacher and coach to go to heaven with his 12 kids, and I truly believe that.”