Remembering Columbine

April 20, 2009 1:13:29 PM PDT
Just mentioning the name Columbine sends shivers down my spine.

I know it's not fair to those good folks who attend and work at the high school in Littleton, Colorado - but I'm sorry, I just can't help myself.

And I suspect I'm not alone.

We're going to be hearing the word Columbine a lot today and tonight, on this, the 10th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High.

We'll hear the names Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and we'll hear about the "trench coat Mafia," and the 12 classmates and a teacher Harris and Klebold killed, and the 23 others they wounded, and how they later turned their guns on themselves.

We'll also hear a lot of myths -- like the two boys were part of a "trench coat mafia" (they apparently were not), that they targeted jocks (they didn't), African Americans (ditto) and Christians (no evidence).

The two troubled youngsters did want to make some kind of violent, twisted statement in the way that Tim McVeigh did on April 19, 1995 in Oklahoma City - and bomb their high school to smithereens.

Columbine is one of those lynchpin events that immediately spark memories of where we were when we heard about it.

It does for me. But Columbine means more than that for me. It changed my life. Literally.

I had two jobs at the time -- I was anchoring weekends for Eyewitness News and I was working Monday through Friday as a correspondent for ABC News' 20/20. It was a time of seven-day work weeks, and although I was professionally thrilled, it was extremely difficult on my family. I was a virtual no-show at home, and it was painful for everyone involved.

Our main anchor for more than 30 years, Bill Beutel, was to leave the 11 p.m. newscast in October, and I had to decide whether, after 10 months on the job, I wanted to work full time at Ch. 7 (and part time for 20/20), or stay at ABC News full time.

Both of course are great jobs - and I was in the enviable position of having it all, job-wise.

All this was on my mind when I went into work at 20/20 on April 20, 1999. Then news about Columbine broke, and, within an hour, I was headed to the airport, along with a host of other ABC folks.

We landed in Denver and worked all night -- interviewing parents of kids who were killed, interviewing kids who knew Harris and Klebold, talking to students who were there and survived.

It was all so horribly sad, and my heart ached for the parents who would never again hug their kids.

I was also aching for myself -- because tragedies like this make you appreciate your own kids even more.

I remember the minute I decided my future. I was sitting next to the great ABC News reporter Tom Jarrell just outside the high school, writing our stories for a magazine special that aired the next night. And in that instant, it became clear to me what I would do. I could no longer justify being away from my kids- traveling every week, not seeing them for days at a time.

I came back to New York after Columbine, and told our news director at the time, Bart Feder, that if he still wanted me full time, I was his.

So on this 10th anniversary of this tragedy, we remember those who died, we remember the renewed gun control debate it sparked, and I remember how that day changed my life. Forever. And, dare I say, for the better.

We'll remember Columbine, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, politics is making news. Rudy Giuliani, unable to extend his Mayoral term in 2001 and dramatically defeated in his bid last year to become the Republican Presidential nominee, now may have his eyes set on the Governor's Mansion in Albany. In an interview with The Post, Giuliani took aim on same-sex marriage - vowing to use his current opposition to it to blast Gov. Paterson. Wasn't Giuliani in favor of same-sex marriage before? Wasn't that and his position in favor of a woman's right to choose the reason conservative Republicans didn't like him?

The other politics story is the special election tomorrow to fill the seat of Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, now the director of Urban Affairs for Pres. Obama. We'll have a preview.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Jessica Taff, in for Scott Clark, with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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