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Former principal Frank DeAngelis on a mission to guide schools in a post-Columbine world

How former principal Frank DeAngelis has made it his life mission to guide schools across the country through gun violence in a post-Columbine world
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Posted at 9:45 PM, Apr 17, 2024

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — When two students stormed Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, killing 12 classmates and a teacher, Frank DeAngelis calls it a day he joined a club he never wanted to be a part of.

The former principal retired a decade ago, but never really stepped away.

“People are saying, ‘It’s been 25 years, but why are you still helping?’" DeAngelis said. "I felt my life was spared. Unfortunately, I lost 13 of my loved ones."

Before his feet hit the floor each morning, DeAngelis recites the names engraved on the Columbine Memorial’s Ring of Remembrance.

“Cassie Bernall, Steven Curnow, Corey DePooter, Kelly Fleming, Matthew Kechter, Daniel Mauser, Danny Rohrbough, Dave Sanders, Rachel Scott, Isaiah Shoels, John Tomlin, Lauren Townsend, Kyle Velasquez. And that’s the reason I do what I do,” said DeAngelis.

He can't help but think many of the students he lost that day would now be around 43 years old — the same age he was the day of the massacre.

“Columbine doesn't have all the answers. We just don't. But Columbine has been through a lot, obviously,” said Dawn Anna, Lauren Townsend's mother.

Anna can only wonder who her daughter would be 25 years later.

“Lauren was an incredible daughter, sister, friend. If you had known her, she would have been your best friend,” said Anna.

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After losing Lauren, Anna has connected with other mothers across the country, whether it be for coffee, on a phone call or in a courtroom.

Since Columbine, DeAngelis said the phone calls haven't stopped, from Sandy Hook Elementary School to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Per the Washington Post, there have been 394 school shootings nationwide since April 20, 1999.

“One of the first questions I ask is, ‘What are you doing to take care of yourself?’ And I think so many times as leaders, we feel that we have to take care of everyone else. And we put ourselves as the last person to be taken care of,” explained DeAngelis.

In 2019, a group of current and former school leaders who have experienced gun violence in their buildings formed the Principal Recovery Network.

Out of the group came the Guide to Recovery, a collection of best practices to help in the aftermath of tragedies.

It dives into questions DeAngelis had, such as, 'When is the best time to reopen the school?' and 'Holding Commemorations and Annual Remembrances.'

Twenty five years removed, DeAngelis refuses to be hopeless, spending his retirement supporting schools through his own tragedy.

"It doesn't matter if it's Florida, California, Texas, Colorado, they're all of our kids... and I want to do everything in my power to make sure that we stop this... these senseless deaths. It's got to stop," said DeAngelis.


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