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Columbine gunshots are reverberating still

November 4, 1999

BY RICHARD ROEPER SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

With other school shootings, in places such as Oregon and Kentucky, there'd be a flurry of public attention for a week or so after the tragic event--but then the community would fade from the media's consciousness.

Columbine, though, has been different. Columbine just keeps on producing ripple-effect stories--some sad, some strange, some controversial, some that just make you shake your head in disbelief. Start with the kid who said he was going to "finish the job," and work from there.

In reverse chronological order:

* A top anchor at a Denver TV station revealed this week that he was so traumatized by covering the massacre at Columbine that he has been receiving treatment for chronic depression for several months.

* In Santa Fe, N.M., last week, a Christian center's haunted house featured a re-enactment of the Columbine shootings. The house was shut down when sheriff's deputies confiscated two real guns that were being used as props, but it was allowed to reopen a day later.

* Meanwhile, an Assembly of God church in Cedar Hill, Texas, had a "Hell House" in which two teens dressed in trench coats shot up a classroom. At the end of the skit the gunmen were sent to hell.

* Carla June Hochhalter, the mother of a girl who was left partially paralyzed by the shootings, walked into a pawn shop in suburban Denver, asked to see a gun, loaded it with bullets she'd brought in and killed herself.

* The Sears holiday catalog featured a trench coat-wearing, shotgun-toting action figure doll. After complaints from parents, the item was pulled.

* When students returned to school, they did so with a bizarre "pep rally" in which there was no mention of the victims. Instead the day echoed with cries of "We are . . . Columbine! We are . . . Columbine!"

* Six relatives of students who were killed at Columbine High sued the school district after they were not allowed to hang memorial tiles with religious symbols in the school. The district had encouraged relatives and friends to paint tiles with tributes to slain loved ones--but references to God or depictions of religious symbols were not allowed.

* The Littleton Fire Department made a 20-minute video that included security camera footage of the gunmen tearing through the Columbine library. In one sequence, a boy can be seen running from one of the gunmen--and then flying through the air after being hit by gunfire. When the video was shown at a safety seminar, a news cameraman recorded the video off the display screen, and excerpts were played by some news organizations.

* The story of Cassie Bernall--the troubled teen who found God and reportedly affirmed her beliefs to one of the gunmen just before she was shot and killed--was immortalized in She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall, written by Cassie's mother, Misty, and released by a small, Christian publisher. To date the book has sold more than 150,000 copies--despite reports that it was another student, Val Schnurr, who was asked, "Do you believe in God?" and responded, "Yes, I do."

Investigators working with students who walked them through the day's events have confirmed that it was Schnurr, not Bernall, who had the dramatic conversation about God with one of the gunmen.

* Fifteen trees were planted near a Littleton church in memory of the 13 fatalities and the two gunmen who killed themselves. The two trees honoring the shooters were chopped down, and the church said it would not replace them.

This was similar to the controversy that swirled around the 15 crosses that were created by an Illinois man and displayed on a hill overlooking the school. Angry parents tore down the two crosses for gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.

* After more than $2 million in donations were sent to a fund for surviving victims of the shootings and relatives of those who were killed, there was much bickering about how the money should be divided.

"I'm disgusted," said one parent, whose son was hospitalized after being shot. "We're broke and they have millions of dollars in donations."

* Photographs of Klebold and a videotape in which he jokes about blowing up the school were shown on ABC's "Good Morning America." The network paid a friend of Klebold's $16,000 for the material.

* A few weeks after the shootings, Michael Shoels, father of slain student Isaiah Shoels, took a break from appearing on various TV shows to visit a casino in Black Hawk, Colo. He hit a $15,000 slot jackpot and announced he would use the money to set up a nonprofit organization that would buy guns from teenagers.

It's impossible to say which of these stories is the weirdest--but for some reason, the madness at Columbine has produced an inordinate number of strange repercussions. I don't believe in curses, but I do have to wonder when, if ever, things will return to normal in Littleton.

Richard Roeper (rroeper@suntimes.com) appears Tuesdays at 8:10 a.m. and Wednesdays at 8:30 a.m. on WFLD-Channel 32's "Fox Thing in the Morning."