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Twenty years since the day hell opened beneath Columbine High School. Since students streamed out of the south Jefferson County school, their hands over their heads, fleeing two classmates turned murderers.
Twenty years since families learned their loved ones had been taken. Since the community suffered a wound that may never completely heal.
On April 20, 20 years since the darkest day many will ever know, hundreds gathered in Clement Park, just around the corner from the school, to remember, and to share the pain and love that followed that day in 1999.
“Not all scars are visible on the skin,” Sean Graves, who was shot in the attack's first moments, told the crowd. “On that day, there were 2,000 people inside… Not a single one of us walked out the same.”
But the mood in the park was not despair or misery, but hope and appreciation that after two decades, life has moved forward.
“We can overcome evil,” Graves said. “We can love one another. We can become family.”
Drawing from the strength of loved ones was crucial in the months and years following the attack, said Patrick Ireland, who to many was once known as “the boy in the window.” The world watched live in 1999 as two SWAT officers pulled Ireland, who had been shot multiple times, through a broken window of the school onto the roof of an armored vehicle.
“The amount of loving, healing energy was incredible,” Ireland said of the aftermath.
Throughout the memorial event, babies cooed in strollers, toddlers scribbled in coloring books and kids scampered among the crowd — new, young lives, for whom the tragedy at Columbine is something vague that happened long before their birth.
The pain may never fully subside, said Dawn Anna, whose daughter Lauren Townsend was killed in the attack.
“Sometimes I wonder how I'm going to get through this day,” Anna said. “Sometimes I wonder how I'm going to get through any day. But I think of Lauren, and I hear her say: 'Do it for me. Do something wonderful for me today.'"
Toward the end of the ceremony, former Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis read the names of those killed by the attackers. Thirteen names DeAngelis said he recites every morning upon waking. Thirteen names engraved in stone at the memorial across the park from the ceremony.
Cassie Bernall. Steven Curnow. Corey DePooter. Kelly Fleming. Matthew Kechter. Daniel Mauser. Daniel Rohrbough. Dave Sanders. Rachel Scott. Isaiah Shoels. John Tomlin. Lauren Townsend. Kyle Velasquez.
“Let’s cry because we lost them," DeAngelis told the crowd, "but smile because we had them.”
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