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Students prepare for first day back at Columbine

The Associated Press

On that first day of school, student Joshua Lapp said he will scan for friendly faces in Columbine’s main hallway, where new white tile gleams in place of bloodstained carpet.

Tuesday, August 10, 1999

On that first day of school, student Joshua Lapp said he will scan for friendly faces in Columbine’s main hallway, where new white tile gleams in place of bloodstained carpet.

And boy’s basketball coach, Rudy Martin, said he will walk into the gym only to feel the loss of Dave Sanders, a teacher and fellow coach killed as he tried to save students last spring.

Although few expect memories of last term’s deadly shootings to fade any time soon, many believe it will help when classes resume Aug. 16.

”I think everyone’s anxious and excited to get back there,” Martin said. ”A lot of us just want to get back into our building and sort of reclaim it, to bring some sort of normalcy back into our lives.”

Castaldo, 17, was leaving Columbine on April 20 when seniors Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, arrived armed with guns and pipe bombs.

They fired at Castaldo and others and then entered the school, killing Sanders and 12 students. Twenty-three students were injured before the gunmen committed suicide.

Castaldo and Anne Marie Hochhalter, both recovering from spinal injuries, are the only two students still hospitalized. Both are paralyzed from the waist down but plan to return to Columbine.

”All my friends are there. I don’t see any reason to change,” said Castaldo, sitting in a wheelchair at Craig Hospital. ”I’m pretty much just trying to pick up my life where I left off … except for a few things, of course.”

School officials have stepped up security, requiring identification badges for students, installing video cameras and hiring two additional guards. Two mental health counselors will be on hand all year, joining the regular staff of six counselors.

”Certain kids are going to be re-traumatized by going back, so the school has to be on alert,” said Jeff Dolgan, chief of psychology at Children’s Hospital.

He said the students and staff may break down or experience flashbacks, a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Jefferson County School District has spent $1.2 million to remove signs of the violence. Even the sound of the fire alarm has been changed, so it doesn’t remind anyone of the alarm that blared for seven hours during the attack.

”It has a different feel, which I think is great,” said Mike Sheehan, 17, who is scheduled to be Columbine’s next student body president. ”The No. 1 thing is, this should be a place to learn. If you have things distracting you it’s hard to do that.”

Any student too traumatized to stay may transfer, said Rick Kaufman, a district spokesman. A teacher and an assistant principal have decided not to return this fall.

”We’re still a little nervous, but overall, everyone’s excited to get back,” said Lapp, 16, who watched the gunmen kill Isaiah Shoels in the library. ”Life isn’t as easy as I thought before.”

Because Harris and Klebold were often taunted and harassed by popular students, especially athletes, some hope that students have learned to show more compassion toward each other.

”I’ve tried to just be a kinder person,” said Megan Frye, a 14-year-old cheerleader at neighboring Chatfield High who often hangs out at Columbine. ”That’s what me and my friends are trying to take out of this, just to be kinder, because obviously something wasn’t right there.”

Terry Havens, a math teacher and coach for 37 years, hopes that attitude sticks.

”But I have to say, when we lose athletes to drunken driving, and we have lost five or six over the years, it affects kids a couple of weeks and then it’s over. They think they’re invincible and they go back to the way they were.”