The Indy 500: A manhunt, a suicide and the echoes of Columbine

Colorado marks the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999. (Photo by Crystal via Flickr: Creative Commons)

I’m still thinking today about the woman/girl/teenager who turned the Front Range upside down with her apparent obsession with the Columbine High School massacre and her pump-action shotgun and her suicide at the foot of a mountain.

I live in Fort Collins. My son’s high school was closed yesterday as a safety precaution. When I awakened him to tell him there was no school and why, he replied, “That’s just insane.” I’m not sure what he was reacting to: A girl a year older than he who was disturbed enough, intent enough and possibly dangerous enough to commit mass murder. Or the shutting down of hundreds of schools in response. Maybe both.

In any case, he went back to sleep because Columbine, the mass shooting, the historical event, the wound that does not heal, happened 20 years ago, about three years before he was born. The world in which he has grown up – one of lockdown drills and pre-arranged escape routes, of Sandy Hook and Parkland – is the only one he knows. It does not mean he is not afraid. It means he has learned not to dwell upon his fear. Because he is a teenage boy for whom all time is now. And because he is not one to give himself over to what has happened or what may happen.

Or maybe that is what I tell myself in my own loss for explanations and my own need for reassurance.

I covered Columbine. “Covered” is a reporter word and one, in this case, that falls short, but it fulfills the purpose of professional detachment, offering a sense of efficiency. There was nothing of either in the blur of April 20, 1999. It was all chaos and disbelief and agony. I made mistakes. I called Dave Sanders’s home – the coach and teacher who was killed as he saved students – and I asked for Dave Sanders. I will never forget the anguish on the other end of the line.

My firstborn was six months old at the time. I remember studying the photos of victims Steven Curnow, who was 14, and Daniel Mauser, who was 15. They looked so young I could see their baby faces still, and I imagined — because how, in my new motherhood, could I not — their mothers and fathers never again holding them close and breathing them in. Twenty years is nothing in the face of that absence.

If I call upon my generous self, I might mourn for a high school student from Florida who called herself Dissolved Girl online, who turned a shotgun upon herself in a forest far from home, and who, had she not tripped alarms, might have walked into a school in Colorado to bring us to our knees again. But my generous self is only glad that my son went back to sleep yesterday and that when he woke up he just wanted waffles.

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Tina was a city columnist for the late great Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post. She left Denver for Richmond, Virginia in 2012 and learned the joys of news editing at the city’s alternative newspaper, Style Weekly, and its premiere city mag, Richmond Magazine. She was also a staff writer for the Washington Post and its Storyline public policy/narrative journalism project. She has national recognition for her reporting on immigration, education and urban poverty. Tina lives in Fort Collins with her husband and two kids. She’s a native New Mexican and prefers red over green.


  1. Much of media made mistakes as did many of us. We tried to make sense and figure out how to deal with the unimaginable. I’m not hearing your apology and what you would differently. What advice you would give to those young reporters in midst of tragedy? That is a gift which your experience could offer.

    Former Deer Creek Middle School Principal 20 year’s ago.

  2. ‘Sol’ wasn’t aware of the media attention her statements got. She took her life before they locked the schools down. She cried for help the wrong way. She was found dead with one shot gun, 2 cases of shells and no plan. There are always two sides to people’s struggles.

  3. I was evacuated as an 8 year old for Columbine and I’m not hearing much sympathy over the entire situation through this article, just a stuggle to move on in your mind.

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