Workers use backhoes to dig through the rubble as the demolition of Sandy Hook Elementary School continues, Monday, Oct. 28, 2013. Supporters of demolishing Columbine are considering tearing tearing down the school where 13 were killed in 1999. Jessica Hill/AP hide caption In Sutherland Springs, Texas, another approach was taken: the original site of the deadly shooting was preserved, serving now as a memorial. And officials this year opened a new church sanctuary to replace the site of a mass shooting that left two dozen people killed. “In 1999, no guidance existed on what to do with a building such as Columbine High School,” Jason Glass, the superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools, wrote in an open letter called “A New Columbine?” The debate has launched searching questions in Columbine that communities across the country have wrestled with regarding what to do with a place that endured such horrific memories. Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman killed 20 students and six adults, was demolished in 2013 and a whole new building was built on the property. Officials in Parkland, Fla., are moving toward replacing the three-story Marjory Stoneman Douglas building that was the site of the killing of 17 students and staff.
“There’s re-traumatizing stuff for us all the time,” Beck said. “But this was way closer to home.” “We are Columbine because of the people. They’re the ones with the hope and resiliency,” DeAngelis told NPR. “It’s not necessarily the bricks and the mortars.” In Orlando, the Pulse night club where 49 died is not being torn down. Instead, it is being transformed into a permanent memorial and museum. But Not everyone who survived the tragedy sees it the same way. “It’s not about the building,” First Baptist Church Pastor Frank Pomeroy told NPR. “It’s about the provisions of God and what he’s done for us.” Will Beck, 36, a Columbine survivor who now works as a financial adviser in Utah, said he recently took his three young children to the school to show them the bathroom he sought shelter in during the shooting. He pointed out the exact location where a teacher saved his life. And he showed them the fence he climbed to finally escape the violence. Frank DeAngelis, the principal at Columbine at the time of the shooting, is advocating for the school to be taken down. Glass cited Sol Pais, the Columbine-obsessed Florida teen, who made her way to Colorado with a shotgun ahead of the 20-year mark since the massacre. Law enforcement launched a manhunt for her, eventually finding her after she took her own life. School districts statewide including those in Denver and Jefferson County were closed as authorities investigated the threat.
“It’s not right,” Josh Lapp, 36, another survivor told NPR. “This community has had to deal with enough of a burden, to ask them to pay for this new construction isn’t fair, just because of what the shooters did.” As the Columbine community grapples with the school’s fate, the school district has released a survey to gauge whether residents are open to paying up to an estimated million to finance the construction of a new high school. One option considers keeping the school’s library as the cornerstone of a new facility. The original library was where many students died in the massacre. Since then, the library has been renovated. The rest of the building, school officials say, would turn into empty fields. Columbine schools officials are considering demolishing the school, but survivors of the 1999 shooting there are fighting back. “I was heartbroken of the thought of losing it,” said Will Beck, a survivor of the shooting. Joe Mahoney/AP hide caption The idea has sparked a backlash from some survivors of the shooting, who say part of their healing process involves revisiting the site, whereas some longtime faculty, including the former principal, are leading the charge for the school’s destruction. Revisiting the school shortly after the shooting, and even now with his children, helps him conquer the trauma. Demolition and relocation is how some communities have reshaped sites of mass tragedy, though others preserve memory-scarred structures and morph them into places where the lost can be remembered. “Columbine High School has a gravitational-pull for these sorts of individuals,” Glass wrote. “Most of them are there to satisfy curiosity or a macabre, but harmless, interest in the school. For a small group of others, there is a potential intent to do harm.”
In the 20 years since two gunman attacked Columbine High School, ushering in a new era in which mass shootings have become commonplace in America, the building has turned into a tourism magnet and even a source of inspiration for copycat killings. “I was heartbroken over the thought of losing it,” Beck told NPR. “The school to me is a very special place.” “The morbid fascination with Columbine has been increasing over the years,” Glass said. “We believe it is time for our community to consider this option.” That is a proposal now being explored by school officials, who say visits from so-called Columbiners obsessed with the school have been growing over the years, putting security personnel on high alert. Plus, officials say, experts recommend tearing down a structure after a massacre, as many sites since Columbine have done. Beck, the Columbine survivor, said he hopes school officials decide to keep the 1970s-era building. News of mass shootings, he said, routinely remind him of the near-death experience he and his classmates had. When he first heard that the site might be torn down, it packed yet another emotional punch. Over the past few months, visitors hoping to glimpse the school have been coming in droves, hitting record levels. A proposal to demolish Columbine High School in response to a steady influx of visitors obsessed with the school’s dark past has sparked a backlash among those who survived the tragedy. Joe Mahoney/AP hide caption The name of the school would stay the same. So would the blue and silver school colors and its Rebel mascot.