Monday will mark 21 years since the attacks on Columbine High School, but the annual memorial event will look different than it has in past years because of the coronavirus shutdown.
This year a small memorial will be held inside the school and families will be able to join the ceremony remotely. The memorial will be led by Frank DeAngelis, who was principal at Columbine when 12 students and a teacher were murdered by two of their classmates in 1999.
“We still want to honor our lost and provide that remembrance for the families and those that were wounded. So that will go on at the exact time that the tragedy happened 21 years ago,” said John McDonald, the head of security for the Jeffco public school district.
In a conversation with Insight’s John Ferrugia, McDonald talked about the upcoming anniversary and how the district is preparing for it.
“This is such a tough time right now. Our former students and staff that lived through this tragedy are not connected like they typically are at this time of year … virtual connection doesn’t replace the direct person-to-person contact when you’re looking for your support network. We’re really cognizant of that,” McDonald said.
The district continues to have enhanced security measures in place at the school due to its continued notoriety.
“The school represents something incredibly emotional for people. For us, it’s hallowed ground, so we’re always going to protect it,” McDonald said. “The concern for us is that 21 years later, we continue to see the fascination.”
The school, like all others in Colorado, is closed for the rest of the school year due to COVID-19. McDonald said statewide stay-at-home orders have not deterred intruders who continue to try to visit the school because of an interest in the attacks.
“Our security for Columbine doesn’t change whether we have a pandemic or not. It continues to be robust, we continue to have our staff there everyday, and we have to. In the month of March, we still saw 125 people show up that shouldn’t be there,” McDonald said.
This April, McDonald said the intrusions have decreased to lower-than-normal levels for the anniversary month. But he said school security still intercepted more than 4,400 people trespassing on campus over the past year.
“Just the other night, we had somebody show up who shouldn’t be on the property. We were able to identify him on video, contact law enforcement,” McDonald said. “The subject was found to have four knives on him at the time and had no purpose for being at the school.”
McDonald said the intruder appeared to have "emotional issues" and was transported to a medical facility.
School security and law enforcement are hoping, as they always do, the weekend and Monday’s anniversary pass without incident. A public memorial site is established at Clement Park, adjacent to the school, and anyone who wants to pay their respects is encouraged to go there and stay away from the campus.
“My hope is that [the school] will be a place of peace and quiet over the weekend. I’m sure there will be some people gathering at the memorial, hopefully social distancing really well. We’ve never been through anything like this during the anniversary and memorial events, so it’s a little difficult to say what we’re going to see. But we’re certainly prepared for whatever that is,” McDonald said.