Columbine High Principal: 'I Needed To Stay' Frank DeAngelis is one of only a handful of staff members who stayed on in the 10 years since the massacre at Columbine High School. He says he's looking forward to finishing his career at the school.
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Columbine High Principal: 'I Needed To Stay'

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Columbine High Principal: 'I Needed To Stay'

Columbine High Principal: 'I Needed To Stay'

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This weekend, people gather at a Park in Littleton, Colorado. They'll be marking the 10th anniversary of the shootings at nearby Columbine High School. In that crowd will be Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis. He's one of only a few staff members to have stayed on since the massacre. From member station KUNC, Kirk Siegler has this profile.

KIRK SIEGLER: Frank DeAngelis figures he's in a pretty unique situation.

Mr. FRANK DEANGELIS (Principal, Columbine High School): A lot of times, survivors of plane crashes or even people that survived the 9/11 terrorism act, returning to that site is very emotional. But for anyone who decided to come back into this building, it's very difficult because each and every day, you relive what happened.

SIEGLER: DeAngelis relives the massacre every time he walks down this hallway.

(Soundbite of door closing)

Mr. DEANGELIS: We're coming down the main hallway…

SIEGLER: Lockers line the dark corridor - school's out for the day.

Mr. DEANGELIS: And as we approach this hallway over here, the gunmen stopped coming after me, and they went after Dave Sanders down this hallway.

SIEGLER: Dave Sanders was a business teacher and close friend of DeAngelis. He was the only faculty member to die in the shooting. As DeAngelis shows me through the school, the halls are empty and seem almost eerie, just like it was when the gunmen came in, he says. It's times like this when DeAngelis says he still gets spooked.

Mr. DEANGELIS: Early on, when I came back for the following school year, I had a difficult time even coming out of my office and coming to this area, because it reminded me so much of that day on April 20th.

SIEGLER: Most of the 145 staff members came back that next school year but few stayed on much longer - there are only 33 left today. So, why is DeAngelis still here?

Mr. DEANGELIS: It happened on my watch, and I really felt that I needed to stay. And I made a commitment to myself that if it ever got to the point that I didn't want to be here, I was dreading coming into this building or this school, that I would leave, and I haven't had that feeling. And I'm looking forward to finishing my career.

SIEGLER: DeAngelis originally pledged to stay on as principal through 2002. That was the year that the kids who were freshmen during the shooting graduated. He's now planning to stay on at least three more years. At 54, he's worked his entire career at Columbine High.

As we continue our tour, he takes me to the place that probably haunts him the most.

Mr. DEANGELIS: Well, we're standing over in the area where the old library was, where a majority of the students were killed.

SIEGLER: That old library was demolished; a new one was built right next to it. At its entrance, DeAngelis shows me a floor-to-ceiling plaque; the names of the 13 people killed are etched into sandstone. It's the only memorial inside the school.

Mr. DEANGELIS: And there's a light that shines down upon it that stays on 24/7. And so, like I said, we'll never forget the 13 who lost their lives, and they also provide hope. And I know there's times when people walk by it, they're saddened knowing that they're no longer with us but they also know - they're no longer with us physically, but you know, spiritually they know they're here.

SIEGLER: What goes through your mind right now when you look at that?

Mr. DEANGELIS: They're here with us. If I allow my mind to wander to that place of them dying in that library, I'm very saddened. But if I look at them stating that, you know, they were here, even though it was for a short amount of time and they were a part of my life. And so I think that's what the important thing is.

SIEGLER: For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Denver.

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