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Columbine rebuilding shattered lives

By Holly Kurtz
Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer


Plenty of painful memories hung over Columbine students' heads last year.

When school reopens Aug. 15, at least one will be gone.

Construction crews have demolished the second-level library where 12 students, including two gunmen, died April 20, 1999, in America's deadliest school shooting.

All that's left is an airy space above the commons/cafeteria. By the first day of school, murals and cloud mobiles should complete an atrium. A new library is expected to open as soon as January.

Families of those injured or killed raised more than $3 million for the project. They have banded together into a group called Healing of People Everywhere, or HOPE.

"When I walked in last week," said HOPE member Dawn Anna, who lost daughter Lauren Townsend to the tragedy, "the entire library floor was removed. I'm not sure how to describe the impact that it had on me ... A weight was taken off me that I never fully understood was there."

Some families received chunks of the library where their children died, according to project superintendent Ryan Thompson.

During demolition, workers emptied trash bins each day to prevent remnants from becoming souvenirs, Thompson said.

Thompson says the site is guarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Workers are on site for much of that time 12 hours a day seven days a week as they rush to finish by the first day of school.

Brian Rohrbough, whose son Dan was killed, said he thought the project was going better than expected.

"Some of the design work was extremely hard to visualize," he said. "Now, we can see it."

When the atrium is complete, 39 clouds weighing up to 550 pounds apiece will hang from the ceiling. Some 500 sheets of dry wall and 80 gallons of paint will line the atrium. The ceiling will be a collage of murals by North Carolina artist Virginia Wright-Frierson.

In the meantime, donations are still trickling in even though HOPE raised $3.3 million more than its $3.1 million goal. Once the project is complete and the bills are paid, HOPE will donate any remaining money to injured Columbine students, a committee putting together a permanent memorial and/or other libraries that need help, Anna said.

Then, HOPE will disband.

At least officially.

Anna believes the families will continue to come together to lend each other strength.

"We have to," she said.

Contact Holly Kurtz at (303) 892-5082 or

July 19, 2000