We then walked over to where the old library used to be. They seemed to have taken it completely out and now it is just an open ceiling space above the cafeteria (it was on the second floor originally). We then walked down the stairs into the cafeteria. This is where the major moment of chills and emotion hit me. It's the exact same cafeteria where the two shooters (who I refuse to name) tried to set off their bombs (which thankfully didn't go off) and where the shootings began because the bombs didn't work. In surveillance videos from the shooting (which can be found online, but watch at your own risk), you can see the two shooters coming into the cafeteria and walking around. It is a chilling video itself, but to walk in the same space and in the steps of them and the students that ran away, was even more chilling. I stood in the middle of the cafeteria and imagined what it would have been like seeing them coming down the stairs or seeing my friends running out of the cafeteria. All I can do is imagine, but I'll never be able to know what it was like for those who were there.
Above the cafeteria, where the library used to be, someone painted a giant mural on different panels that now hang from the ceiling. When put together, the panels create a mural of what it would look like if one looked up at the sky in the middle of a forest and saw the trees stretching up into the heavens. It is a fitting mural and very beautiful. Glad it replaced the library.
After this, we headed outside from the cafeteria and I did my photos at the back of the school. Normally my photos are the front of buildings, but the back seemed fitting as I was able to capture the area where the events actually happened. It also wasn't disruptive to the students that were at the school starting their sports. We didn't bring the pillows with us into the school, so I photographed these later. I didn't want to waste the principal's time going back and getting them and then setting them up. It's more important to me to get the sites and then mess with the pillows later to create the final images. If I happen to be able to do the balls on-site, then I will.
I got the photos within 10 minutes and then the principal walked us back out the front of the school. As we walked, he mentioned to us that normally on April 20th, they don't have school. This year, they plan to do something different that actually gives back to the community. They will still have school, but no class, it sounds like. A lot of the students weren't even born at the time of the shooting, so they don't have the same connection to it. He mentioned that it is better that they involve people instead of just giving them another day off of school. He wants them to realize the depth of the incident and not take the day off of school for granted. I applaud them for changing it and I hope it goes well.
We said our goodbyes and thank yous then he directed us to the Columbine Memorial in the park right next door. We drove over and then walked up to this area in a beautiful park that housed the hidden-away memorial. He told us that they made it not super close to the school on purpose because of people that come around and want a look at where it happened, etc. That is why he was hesitant to give me permission, as he wasn't sure I wasn't just a crazy wanting to see stuff. He agreed because I have an actual purpose. Very thankful for him allowing me access. It was an experience I will never forget!
The memorial, part of which is pictured, was breathtaking. The atmosphere is hard to describe. All that can be heard is birds chirping and the distant sound of the freeway. There were a couple people around that were walking on the top hill edge above the memorial, but they weren't any distrubance. In the center of the memorial on the ground are tiles made into the shape of a ribbon (like you would see for breast cancer awareness). On it are the words "Never Forgotten". Where the ribbon crosses itself there lay 13 red roses. Someone must have just put them there recently. It was another chilling moment.
Surrounding this, is a circle of plaques that have little memorial writings from the families and friends of the 13 victims that were killed. They talked of their life and their dreams. I tried to read all of them, but I started to tear up. There was so much love there and it was heartbreaking to read of young lives, like myself, get ripped away in an instant. It hit home. I'm even tearing up writing this!
Then, on the outside of the inner circle, there is a wall with different quotes from people that were injured, students that were there, family members, people that helped create the memorial, and even President Bill Clinton. A lot of the quotes were very moving and really fit with the overall theme of my project. For example:
- "The hardest part to understand was kids killing kids." - Student
- "The definition of normal changed on that day." - Parent
- "It brought the nation to its knees, but now that we've gotten back up how have things changed; what have we learned?" - (Not Mentioned)- "I hope people come to this place to think about how they themselves can be better people rather than come here to reflect on death." - Parent