Columbine students strive to move on 10 years after massacre

Monday, April 20, 2009
Lindsay Abrams, center, and her husband Danny Abrams, right, hold candles Sunday during a candlelight vigil at the Columbine Memorial at Clement Park near Littleton, Colo. Abrams was a sophomore at Columbine at the time of the attack. (Chris Schneider ~ Associated Press)

LITTLETON, Colo. -- The "boy in the window" who fell bloodied and paralyzed into the arms of rescuers during the Columbine High shooting rampage is doing just fine.

Now 27, Patrick Ireland has regained mobility with few lingering effects from gunshot wounds to his head and leg a decade ago. He is married and works in the financial services industry. His mantra: "I choose to be a victor rather than a victim."

Like Ireland, many survivors of the April 20, 1999, massacre have moved on to careers in education, medicine, ministry, retail.

But emotional scars still can trigger anxiety, nightmares and deeply etched recollections of gunfire, blood and bodies.

Some have written books; a few travel the world to share their experiences to help victims of violence.

"People have been able to have 10 years to reconcile what happened and see what fits in their life and who they are," said Kristi Mohrbacher of Littleton, who fled Columbine as the gunfire erupted. "It's kind of a part of who I am today. I think my priorities might be a little bit different if I hadn't had that experience."

Just after 11 a.m. on that day, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, stormed the suburban school, killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding about two dozen. The massacre ended with the gunmen's suicides not quite an hour later.

Sean Graves saw the pair loading weapons in a parking lot and thought they were preparing a senior prank with paintball guns.

Graves, Lance Kirklin and Daniel Rohrbough were walking toward them for a better look when the gunmen opened fire, killing Rachel Scott and Rohrbough and critically wounding Anne Marie Hochhalter, Graves and Kirklin, among others.

Graves, now 25, moved into a suburb near the mountains, where he recently purchased a home with his fiancee, Kara DeHart, 22. He walks with a limp and still feels pain but keeps a positive attitude. He plans to return to college to pursue a career in forensics science, a path that began to interest him after Columbine.

On today's anniversary, Graves will go back to the spot where he was shot, smoke a cigar and leave another on the ground for Rohrbough, something he does every year.

With two children at Columbine, Ted Hochhalter watched the drama unfold on television while waiting in a Seattle airport for a flight back to Denver. He arrived to find his daughter, Anne Marie, paralyzed and in critical condition, and that his son Nathan had been trapped, but unhurt, in the science wing for four hours.

Anne Marie, now 27, graduated from Columbine in 2000 and lives in a Denver suburb where she works as a retail store manager and a child advocate. Her father retired with a medical disability for post traumatic stress disorder.

Patrick Ireland, the boy in the window, endured therapy to regain the use of his legs and had to relearn how to read, write and talk.

With a control-your-destiny determination, he graduated as valedictorian from Columbine and magna cum laude from Colorado State University. Today, he is a field director for Northwestern Mutual Finance Network in the Denver area and has been married to Kacie for nearly four years.

Ireland recognizes he'll long be remembered as the face of Columbine because of his dramatic rescue. He accepts it as a way to emphasize that Columbine should be another word for "hope and courage."

And how does he want to be remembered?

"A triumphant recovery and success story."

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