Samuel Granillo, who survived the Columbine High School massacre by holding a door shut with his feet, recently shared a peach beer with Alex Teves.
Days later, Teves, a 24-year-old who graduated in June from the University of Denver with a master’s in counseling psychology, died with 11 others in a shooting rampage during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Fifty-eight were wounded and nine remain in critical condition.
“It hurts being kicked this many times in one life,” said Granillo, a 30-year-old filmmaker making a documentary on the April 20, 1999, Columbine shooting in which 15 died, including the attackers. Granillo escaped injury by blocking the office door as the killers tried repeatedly over three hours to enter.
When today’s flowers wilt, the candles burn to waxen pools and the memorial balloons deflate, Colorado must confront the aftermath of the state’s second mass killing in 13 years, one that binds succeeding generations of teenagers in a shared experience of violence. Public officials, students and parents who endured the first massacre said how the community responds is intricately connected with how it heals.
“I’m happy that I went through what I did 13 years ago so I could be here for my friends and to open myself through the community,” Granillo said, adding that he knew others who watched last week as a black-clad gunman unloaded untold rounds into the audience in Theater 9 of the Century 16 multiplex in Aurora. A 24-year-old would-be graduate student, James Eagan Holmes, was arrested after the killings and is expected in court today.
Denver has a template to follow. In 1999, baseball and hockey teams canceled events following the high-school slaughter in suburban Littleton and movie theaters opened their doors to students, providing unlimited free popcorn and films.
Crystal Woodman Miller, then a 16-year-old junior, hid under a table in Columbine’s library for seven minutes as the shooters fired nearby. She lived because they left to reload.
“My dad went to the store at one point to buy a whole bunch of groceries and filled up his basket so we could feed everyone that was coming and going,” Miller said yesterday.
“The manager was standing there and said, ‘Tom, you know you are a friend of ours. Just leave. Those groceries are on us,’” said Miller, who wrote a book about her recovery from the shooting, “Marked for Life.”
The Aurora slaughter is in many respects unlike the Columbine shooting 19 miles (31 kilometers) away. The theater killings were perpetrated by someone unknown to the victims; Columbine was the bloody work of two boys who killed their classmates. The emotional aftereffects are similar.
The most painful part for officials and emergency personnel following Columbine was that they couldn’t say why it happened or change the outcome, said Patricia Holloway, chairwoman of Jefferson County’s commission from 1997 to 2005.
“It just hits you to the core,” Holloway said. “You want to help, and you want to be able to make it right, and you can’t.”
For the 200 Aurora police officers who responded in the chaotic minutes after the 12:30 a.m. theater shooting -- many taking bleeding victims in their squad cars to hospitals -- the tragedy is similarly personal.
Chief Dan Oates wept July 20 as he described the mental and physical demands of simultaneous investigations at the theater - - which still held 10 bodies -- and Holmes’s bomb-rigged apartment 10 minutes away.
“Our cops went through a lot,” he said. “One of the things we’re working on now is how to deal with our own trauma.”
Some cannot be dealt with. Chuck Burdick, former chief of operations for the Littleton Fire Department, said he relives that day 13 years ago.
One image he can’t escape is that of a student being removed from an ambulance with his jaw and leg shattered by a shotgun blast. He refuses to watch the news on the anniversary of the shootings.
“I don’t want to see it again,” Burdick, 60, now retired, said in a telephone interview from Kittredge, Colorado. “I can remember in vivid, photographic detail everything that transpired.”
July 20 made a new set of memories for a new generation.
Many members of the football team from Aurora’s Gateway High School attended the Batman premiere, including Donovan Tate, a 19-year-old who graduated seventh in his class.
“People were injured, people were crawling on the floor, people were spitting up blood and were shot in the arm and thigh,” Tate said. He and teammates waited 19 hours to find out what happened to their friend Alexander J. Boik, 18. He was among the dead.
Zach Golditch, a 6-foot-5-inch, 260-pound senior and offensive tackle, was wounded as he watched the Batman film with Tate in the adjacent theater.
The effects of such an event linger, said Scott Poland, a professor and co-director of the Suicide and Violence Prevention Office at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He trained support staff after Columbine and has been a part of crisis teams responding to 12 other school shootings and terrorist acts, he said.
Echoing Through Years
Poland said that after Columbine’s first anniversary, high-school basketball star Greg Barnes hanged himself. Barnes saw a teacher critically wounded and lost one of his best friends during the shootings, according to the Associated Press.
“We want this to be over in a couple of days, but unfortunately, it’s not over in a couple of days,” Poland, 63, said in a telephone interview.
The search for a daily routine takes time, said Harriet Hall, president and chief executive officer at the Jefferson Center for Mental Health in Colorado.
“You never move back to normal the same way normal was,” she said.
Marjorie Lindholm, who was trapped in a Columbine classroom with a fatally wounded teacher, said she couldn’t talk about it for years and dropped out of college many times, for good after the Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007. She now is working on her master’s degree in criminal justice at the University of Colorado-Denver online.
Lindholm, who works as a call center specialist at the Mile High United Way, left work on July 20 after hearing that a friend of her husband’s was shot in the leg in Theater 9.
“I had a huge breakdown,” she said, adding that she’s stopped taking medicine that’s helped ease her grief for the last 13 years because she’s trying to get pregnant.
Lindholm said many Columbine students never recovered from the emotional trauma, including her best high school friend, who committed suicide several years ago.
“No one teaches you how to put your life back together after that happens,” she said. “Especially when you are 16.”