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Wounded girl moves legs for 1st time since shooting

By Ann Schrader
Denver Post Medical/Science Writer

Oct. 16 - This week, for the first time since the Columbine High shootings, Anne Marie Hochhalter moved her legs.

The 17-year-old Columbine senior, partially paralyzed and living with a bullet in her back, revealed Friday how she lifted and moved her legs during therapy two days earlier.

Anne Marie shared the news as she attended Courage Walk, a fund-raiser organized for her by Leawood Elementary School, where Anne Marie once was a student.

The Leawood community was celebrating Anne Marie's progress since being shot at the high school on April 20. Located about four blocks from Columbine, Leawood is where parents and students were reunited after the shootings, and where 13 families waited in vain for their loved ones. Many of the Leawood students have brothers and sisters at Columbine, and Leawood teachers once taught Columbine students like Anne Marie.

On Friday, scores of students, faculty and parents walked and ran to raise money to assist the Hochhalter family.

"It makes me grateful. They didn't have to do this. I can't even explain my thanks,'' Anne Marie said during an interview in the Leawood library. "It is so nice to have people remember.''

Fifth-grader Matt Hevert said he knocked on neighbors' doors to raise money. "It's about how you feel doing it for someone,'' he said. "It makes you really proud just knowing that we are helping.''

Caitlyn Grant, a sixth-grader, shivered in the chilly weather but said it was worth "taking 20 minutes out of our day'' to help.

"I'm glad that our school is doing this,'' said Larissa Perez, another sixthgrader.

Anne Marie said she was "working very hard'' to walk again.

"You can't set a big, huge goal, like "I'm going to walk again tomorrow,' '' she said. "It will be a little bit at a time.''

Anne Marie has what is known as "incomplete'' damage to her spinal cord at the T-12 level, or lowest thoracic vertebrae. She has some sensation from her waist down to about 5 inches above her knees, and a "marshmallowy'' feeling in her feet. She also has sensation in her back and hips.

Anne Marie said that on Wednesday, therapist Kim Casias told her to concentrate on lifting one of her legs from the bed. While her father videotaped, Anne Marie lifted her legs, one at a time, 3 or 4 inches. Then she moved them to the side.

Although she admitted to "a little pain here and there,'' her father said later she was understating it. Sometimes, he said, her nerves spasm and the pain is excruciating for a minute or so.

Still, the honor student and musician "has shown me how strong she is,'' Ted Hochhalter said as her former teachers stopped by to give her a hug. "She has gone through what no one should ever have to go through.''

Anne Marie, who has always been shy, hasn't wanted to talk much in the past. But, she said, "I've had to learn to let people know how I'm doing. I know that they're still caring and want to know about me.''

She is attending a physics class at Columbine and being taught at home for other classes. "We hope to get her back to school full time, although there is no timeline,'' Ted Hochhalter said.

Last week, the family moved into a home that was renovated by volunteers to accommodate her wheelchair. Once they are settled, Anne Marie promised she'll throw a pizza party "for all my friends who have supported me.''

She said Columbine continues to heal.

"I think we'll all recover, although it's sometimes hard to forget,'' Anne Marie. As for herself, she said she may never get over what happened, but vowed, "I'll get past it.''

Several additional fund-raising events by Leawood Elementary School are planned to help Anne Marie Hochhalter. The school is selling Columbine bears for $11.50, with the $4 profit being donated to Anne Marie. For information, call the school at 303-982-7860.

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