Remembering Columbine: “They Call Me Mr. De”

May 17

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Motherhood has been the greatest honor of my life. It was a something that I chose, and something that my body allowed me to do without any medical complications. My body and spirit accepted the job of creating, nourishing, and giving birth to three daughters who are now 25, 23 and 13. With each child I was in awe of the amazing weight of responsibility that I had accepted. It was my purpose to keep them safe, loved, and nurtured. I was scared. I was hopeful. I was fully committed to being the best mother that I could be. When I entered my career in education, it was never with the idea, or even hope, that I would become a school administrator. Then I made the choice to walk through that door after seven years as an English teacher. After three years as an assistant principal, I was selected to become an elementary school principal. My first meeting with my staff, I was blown away by the honor I felt to be responsible for an entire school community. To this day, motherhood and being a school principal have been the greatest privileges of my life. 

I know the joy. The fear. The frustration. The dream. The magic. The Despair. The inspiration. When you are a school principal you make sure that everyone receives credit for all the goodness and magic that happens at schools. When things go wrong, sometimes even horribly wrong, you carry the burden of blame. That’s just what good leaders do.  

Twenty years ago, I was a young mother with two little girls finishing my teaching credential program. On April 20, 1999, I was studying for a final when I heard that there had been a school shooting in Colorado. The images of the 1984 San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre flooded my mind. I struggled to understand how someone could (again) kill innocent children, especially in a place where they are supposed to be safe. The emotion of that day at Columbine High School has remained a shadow in my heart. Since that day, we have lost so many children, young adults, teachers, staff and other adults in school shootings. As a mother and former school principal, I feel each incident in a different way. The thought of my children being hurt or murdered. The thought of my school being the one under attack. 

I was scared. Legit scared when I started to read, They Call Me “Mr. De” The Story of Columbine’s Heart, Resilience, and Recovery, by Frank DeAngelis, former principal of Columbine High School. I didn’t know if I could really read through the reality of the unbelievable pain that students, teachers, parents and their loved ones endured. I was nervous for the fear and pain to rise to the surface. But that’s not what this book is about. Frank DeAngelis, Mr. De, tells a story about love, community, faith, commitment and compassion–in their truest form. Through the telling of his story and that of the Columbine community, Mr. De offers us, as a nation, an opportunity to heal. It is a rallying cry for love, authenticity, and vulnerability to be at the center of our lives and in our work.Through unspeakable loss, instead of turning to the darkness, Mr. De led his school with love and light. In the face of pain and trauma, Mr. De shows us how to live Dr. Martin Luther King’s words. He led through the unthinkable and unimaginable. This is a powerful narrative that all educators, parents, and school leaders must read. 

As I shared in a piece that I wrote about my experience at the Equal Justice Initiatives National Memorial for Peace and Justice, I was taught to say the names of our lost loved ones. For me, it’s a way to honor them as ancestors, and to honor our future ancestors. Mr. De does the same. He writes, 

“There’s a saying that when someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure. I have found that to be true. Each morning, I recited the names of those we had lost. As long as I’m alive, I will continue sharing their names and telling their stories. Not a day passes that I don’t think of the Beloved Thirteen.”

This week marks the anniversary of the Columbine Shooting. Please join me in remembering the Beloved Thirteen. To these warriors, I write your name. I speak your name. I do this to honor you as ancestors and to honor your family and loved ones. I do this with the hopes that no more names will be added to the list of those lost in school shootings.

Cassie Bernall

Steven Curnow

Corey DePooter

Kelly Fleming

Matthew Kechter

Daniel Mauser

Daniel Rohrbough

Dave Sanders

Rachel Scott

Isaiah Shoels

John Tomlin

Lauren Townsend

Kyle Velasquez

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