- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

LITTLETON, COLO. (AP) - Columbine High School principal Frank DeAngelis speaks easily, almost matter-of-factly, about the personal price he paid after the massacre at his school: His marriage of 17 years collapsed, he suffered anxiety attacks and he still carries survivor’s guilt.

But 10 years after students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 people and wounded 23 others, DeAngelis is still at his desk. He says he won’t retire until after the students who were in kindergarten the year of the bloodshed have graduated in 2011.

“People ask, ‘Why are you still here?’” he said.

“I can’t imagine being anywhere else, especially after the tragedy.”

Now 54, DeAngelis is a diminutive, energetic man who speaks quietly but emphatically. He’s known around the school as “Mr. D,” a name he embraces.

DeAngelis was in his office the morning of April 20, 1999, when his secretary told him someone was shooting. He ran to the hallway and gunshots whizzed by, shattering glass behind him.

He shepherded a group of about 20 students to safety that day, and he survived with no physical injuries. But he recites a list of other, invisible wounds: Anxiety attacks so severe they felt like heart attacks; guilt that he survived but that his good friend, teacher Dave Sanders, died; the end of his marriage.

DeAngelis blames his divorce on the difficulty he had communicating with his wife after the shootings. He was working long hours and didn’t feel like talking when he got home.

“I needed those few hours just to rejuvenate so I could come back and start all over again, and so we grew apart,” he said.

His health suffered, too. He stopped working out and gained 40 pounds, and his cholesterol and blood pressure soared.

He credits his recovery to counseling, his doctor and his Catholic faith.

Two days after the shooting, his parish priest asked him to come to church. Hundreds of students and community members were there to greet him.

“They just extended their hand out. What came over me, I can’t explain it, but it was from that point forward I said, ‘I’m gonna make it,’” DeAngelis says.

During his divorce, he was sifting through thousands of cards and letters he got after the shootings and came across one from his high school sweetheart, Diane Meyer. They talked on the phone, then started dating and became engaged on Christmas Eve of 2003.

They still don’t have a wedding date. “Not yet. But it’s getting close,” he says.

DeAngelis got counseling and goes back for what he calls maintenance. He followed his doctor’s advice and changed his lifestyle.

After the shootings, DeAngelis pledged to that year’s freshman class that he would stay.

“I felt that if I was going to ask them to come back into this building and continue to be students at Columbine High School and graduate from Columbine High School, I could not allow them to do it alone,” he said. “I made them that promise. ‘I will be here with you.’”

DeAngelis says he also considered leaving after this year’s anniversary. “But then I started thinking, there’s still kids that were in elementary school (at the time of the shootings) that have not graduated. So that would be a good time to think about leaving.”

Retirement appears to be a moving target. As long as he enjoys his work and feels like he’s making a difference, he’ll stay.

The shootings no longer hang as heavily over Columbine High School as they once did, he says. The turning point for him was on the 2004 anniversary, when Dawn Anna, whose daughter Lauren Townsend was killed, spoke about celebrating the victims’ lives.

Until then, when DeAngelis thought of the victims, he pictured their deaths.

“Now when I walk into that building, instead of being very guarded, I think about them in the hallway.

“I imagine seeing Danny Mauser and Kelly Fleming at church. I see Rachel Scott on the stage. I see Matt Kechter playing football. I see Danny Rohrbough outside, Isaiah Shoels giving me a high five.”


On the Net:

Columbine High School: https://sn.im/g9k6l

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