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Columbine victim's dream fulfilled

Corey DePooter made an honorary Marine

By Holly Kurtz
Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

He was the kind of boy who refused to play the bad guy in childhood games of cops and robbers. Who admitted right off he had been speeding when a trooper stopped him, then ended up befriending the man who gave him the ticket.

Who wanted nothing more than to be a Marine, until the bullets that flew April 20, 1999, at Columbine High put an end not only to his lifelong dream, but also to his life.

Wednesday at Chapel Hill Cemetery, Corey DePooter's dream did come true. He was named an honorary Marine in a ceremony held beside his grave.

"Every time we see a Marine, we'll probably put Corey's face on that uniform," said his grandmother, Fern Hamilton, after the ceremony by Denver-based Marine Air Control Squadron 23.

Soon after DePooter's death, Hamilton had asked Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Ricardo Davila whether the Marines might hold some sort of ceremony for her grandson.

People had been asking her where to send flowers in DePooter's memory. That got Hamilton thinking about what her grandson would have wanted more than all the flowers in the world.

She remembered the family photo where a young Corey was wearing his father's Army medal on his suit. She remembered how proud her grandson had been when, at age 7, soldiers made a fuss over the master sergeant bars she had gotten sewn on the fatigues she had bought him to wear when they toured two military bases.

"What a small master sergeant!" they all said.

The Marines allow military funerals only for former military members. So Hamilton asked if a couple of Marines might just attend her grandson's funeral.

"We sent 20," Davila recalled.

Through this, Davila got to know the family, including the story eyewitnesses told of DePooter's last minutes in the Columbine library where he was killed.

Not only did he encourage other students to stay still and calm, he also used his body to shield a boy and girl crouching behind him.

"Our son is alive today, at least in part, thanks to your son's courage and bravery," one library survivor's parents wrote in a letter to the DePooters.

Davila researched regulations to find out what could be done, and found out about the honorary Marine program.

"I think he would have made an outstanding Marine," Davila said.

Patricia DePooter, Corey's mother, said her son had Marine recruiting pamphlets in his knapsack when he died.

Columbine senior Brian Saltzman, 18, had known DePooter since first grade. He remembered his friend had such a strong sense of right and wrong that he never wanted to be the robber in cops and robbers.

He recalled how DePooter would ask Saltzman's older brother, an Air Force captain, for information on the military. How his friend believed so deeply in accepting the consequences of his actions that when he was pulled over in Kansas for speeding, he freely admitted his wrongdoing.

Saltzman said he thought DePooter wanted to be a Marine because he admired that branch's discipline.

Now, the Marines have helped give his family the discipline and strength to go on.

"It is the uniform that brought us together because of Corey, but we started looking at the man and we have become a family," his grandmother said.

Contact Holly Kurtz at (303) 892-5082 or kurtzh@RockyMountainNews.com.

May 4, 2000