Columbine Victims'
Lives Turned Upside Down

LITTLETON, Colo. (Reuters) - One father took a job fighting for gun control. A mother quit hers to take care of her 17-year-old paralyzed son. And -- in the cruelest of turns -- another parent sank into such despair over her daughter's serious injuries that she took her own life.
In the year since two teen-age gunmen opened fire at Colorado's Columbine High School, killing 15 people including themselves in one of the bloodiest episodes of school violence in U.S. history, the lives of those left behind have changed irrevocably.
In one Littleton home, Doreen Tomlin keeps forgetting that she lost her son John and sets the table for five when there are only four.
In another, Connie Michalik devotes herself to caring for her son Richard Castaldo, who was paralyzed in the attack. Once a substitute teacher who helped other people's children, Michalik quit the day after the shooting.
"I kind of need to help Richard get out of bed and into the shower and all that every morning," Michalik said.
In his corner of Littleton, Tom Mauser is on a mission. "I want to stop the killing," the soft-spoken suburban dad says, referring to his new role as spokesman for Sane Alternatives for the Firearms Epidemic (SAFE), a group working for stricter gun laws.
After the death of his son Daniel, Mauser took a leave of absence from his job at the Colorado Department of Transportation to become a public figure -- an icon of the local gun control movement.
"Some people say I'm being exploited or that I'm exploiting my son's death. I don't think so," said Mauser. "I don't consider my work exploitation when we lose 30,000 people a year to guns."
Arnie Grossman, co-founder of SAFE Colorado, said the tragedy of Littleton made Mauser a powerful figure.
"Tragically, like Jim Brady, Tom now has a terrible kind of credibility," Grossman said. "He's believable. People listen to him because of the death of his son."
Frank DeAngelis, Columbine High School's principal, sometimes has flashbacks when he walks through the halls of the school, remembering the 12 students and teacher who were gunned down by two other Columbine students, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17.
DeAngelis feels numb. "I was always an emotional person, crying at weddings and even movies. I don't know if it's because I've built up a defense mechanism that is protecting me ... but I think it's allowed me to get through this year," he said.
Some of the results have been beyond tragic.
Six months after the shooting, Carla Hochhalter walked into a pawn shop and asked to see a gun. The middle-aged mother of two put one bullet into the wall of the shop and the other into her temple -- another victim of Littleton.
She left behind her husband, Ted, her son and daughter, Anne Marie, a Columbine student confined to a wheelchair by injuries sustained in the school massacre. Hochhalter was pronounced dead at the same hospital where Anne Marie had been saved six months earlier.
Sue Petrone, whose 15-year-old son, Danny Rohrbough, was among those killed, has thrown her energies into raising funds to build a new library and replace the one where so much carnage took place.
"In high school I would take an 'F' before I'd get up and give a book report," she said. But the library project is important so she musters her courage and gets up and speaks.
Jon DeStefano, president of the Jefferson County School Board, which covers Columbine, has had the busiest year of his life but because of the tragedy he spends more time with his grown children.
"I'm a better parent than I was before. I communicate better with my children and I take an interest in their lives. I feel closer to my children," he said. DeStefano believes he has seen the same effect in other parents.
For some survivors of Littleton, the experience has tied them even more closely to the town.
Joe and Ann Kechter whose son Matt was killed thought of moving away. "We considered moving from the area. But then we'd lose support," Joe Kechter said. "We will be friends for the rest of our lives," he said of the other victims' families because they are the only ones who really understand the pain. The couple's 13-year-old son, Adam, wants to go to Columbine High School and it looks like they will let him.
As time passes, the town looks more and more like it once did. But it took Doreen Tomlin a while to remember to pull four plates out of the cupboard when setting the table, not the five she laid out before her son John was killed.
"Sometimes the pain is absolutely unbearable," she said recently, but she and her husband, John, have found solace in their faith in God and they're trying to live as normally as possible, whatever that might be. "Your normal is not the normal you once knew."


This Site Served by TheHostPros