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Student resolves to walk again

By Kevin Simpson
Denver Post Staff Writer

June 5 - Anne Marie Hochhalter was among the first to feel the violent impact of the April 20 rampage at Columbine High School, and doctors told her parents she entered the emergency room closer to death than any other of the injured.

Blessed with life, she faces her greatest challenge.

The 17-year-old honor student, a lover of music in the midst of adding the guitar and violin to an instrumental repertoire that already includes the clarinet and piano, now devotes her energy to recovering from a spinal injury that has paralyzed her legs.

"We've been told that she may recover some function, and that's what we're praying for - one more miracle,'' Ted Hochhalter said at Craig Hospital. "I feel that with Anne Marie, God gave her back to us.''

Anne Marie, a junior, took a single gunshot wound to the chest as she and two friends sat in the grass outside the school. The bullet ultimately struck her spinal cord and, along the way, injured her liver and the major vein that returns blood from the lower leg to the heart.

She could have bled to death if not for friends, paramedics and medical staff whose speed, courage and skill combined with something intangible to save her life.

"I believe there was divine intervention,'' her father said. At first, "they didn't expect her to make it. After that, it got to be hour to hour, then day to day. Then she started making remarkable improvement.''

Anne Marie spent more than six weeks at Swedish Medical Center before being transferred to Craig this week. She joins other Columbine victims Sean Graves, Richard Castaldo and Patrick Ireland at the rehabilitation center.

Ted Hochhalter said professionals from Craig will look at the family's two-story house to see if it can be modified to give Anne Marie total wheelchair access. He also has concerns about how long his insurance will cover Anne Marie's care.

The full extent of the spinal injury hasn't been determined, but Anne Marie has reacted to it with characteristic resolve.

"She's said on several occasions to me and to her mom that she believes she'll walk again,'' her father said. "That's her long-term goal.''

Anne Marie has told her parents she wants to return to the school to complete her senior year and graduate with the class of 2000. "We believe she needs to have some control in her life,'' Ted Hochhalter said. "She and all these kids were in a totally out-of-control situation.''

Anne Marie's brother, 15-year-old Nathan, also was in school during the rampage. He hid in a science room for hours.

Ted Hochhalter, an emergency management specialist with the federal Bureau of Reclamation, said his daughter has not talked about the details of her experience, but he knows that many people contributed to her survival.

"There were lots and lots of heroes there, and one who I believe saved my daughter's life - Jayson Autenrieth,'' he said, naming the 15-year-old freshman who pulled Anne Marie out of the line of fire.

"And he did this - how can I say this? - under extreme peril to himself. Then the paramedics from the fire department, they rescued my daughter under fire. I thank them every day for that.''

As for gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, whose suicidal rampage killed 13 and injured 23, Ted Hochhalter said he feels no anger toward them - or their parents - and hopes only that something positive might come from such a horrific incident.

"I don't blame the parents. They're suffering a loss themselves.''

Ted Hochhalter said his daughter probably is looking at a two- to three-month stay at Craig.

"She wants the world to know she is healing, physically and emotionally, and will be a stronger person for this.''

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