Anti-Violence Rally on Eve of Columbine Anniversary Recalls Massacre, Urges Voter Action
Under a chilly April sky, a tragedy was commemorated by students who had not yet been born when it occurred.
Some 500 people turned out in a park next to Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colo., Thursday evening for Vote for Our Lives, an anti-violence rally in honor of the victims of the shootings at the school, where 13 people were killed by two gunmen 19 years ago. The school has been closed annually on the anniversary of the shootings.
Speakers at the rally at Clement Park included Columbine students, former Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis, Columbine teacher Paula Reed, Isaac Slade, the lead singer of the rock band The Fray, the mother of a student killed in a 2013 shooting at nearby Arapahoe High School, and students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students were killed by a gunman on Feb. 14.
"We are a whole community in search of a change that will change the United States," Jorge Flores, a junior at Stoneman Douglas, told the crowd.
Desiree Davis described how her daughter, Claire, was sitting on a bench eating a cookie and waiting for a physics class to start when she became the lone student killed by an Arapahoe High School shooting in 2013.
"Our society and our institutions failed Claire that day," she said. "They also failed the boy who killed her."
Davis helped to successfully push for the 2015 Claire Davis School Safety Act, which allows lawsuits against Colorado schools where shootings or other violence occurs.
Reed, the Columbine teacher, spoke out against arming teachers.
"You're asking me to kill one of my students," said Reed, who taught some of the victims and one of the shooters during her 32 years at the school. "It's too much to ask."
Slade asked shooting survivors to stand while he and his wife, Anna, sang the Fray's 2005 hit "How to Save a Life."
Columbine junior Maya Sherpa-Phan attended the rally because she believes the nation needs stronger gun regulations.
"Every state has different rules," she said. "It gets very messy."
"A lot of people say this movement isn't going to do much," she added. Sherpa-Phan believes things will change when the students behind the movement are old enough to vote.
Organizers at the event encouraged attendees to register to vote in the mid-term elections. Volunteers with clipboards fanned out around the grassy field in front of the rally's stage, registering people to vote.
Sherpa-Phan said that tourists still show up at her school to gawk at the site of the 1999 shooting. She planned to commemorate the anniversary by volunteering at an assisted living facility. The school is holding a day of service on April 20 with events that are not open to the public.
Like her classmates, Columbine sophomore Sam Sprague was not yet born when the shooting occurred. But she says the tragedy continues to resonate at the school.
"Everyone looks at us differently because we go to a school that was shot up," she said.
"You're always worried something's going to happen," said Columbine freshman Clayta Goodwin.
Jenn Ribble, 33, was a Columbine freshman in 1999. She attended Thursday's rally to "show support for the movement." She said she still "goes numb" when new shootings occur.
"It's like 'another one? Really?,'" she said. "I just shut down."
She says her fear has increased since Sandy Hook, especially now that she has a child of her own who is a 1st grader.
The rally closed at dusk with a candlelight vigil accompanied by bag pipers descending from the park's Columbine memorial.
"We need to stand up to this violence," said DeAngelis, who was principal when the shooting took place.
He then read the names of the massacre's 13 victims and called for a moment of silence.
PHOTO: Jorge Flores, left, consoles fellow Stoneman Douglas High School survivor Carlitos Rodriguez during the kickoff event for the Vote For Our Lives movement to register voters on April 19 in Littleton, Colo. The event was held on the eve of the 19th anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School. --David Zalubowski/AP