Dave and Linda Sanders had been preparing to retire to Laramie, Wyoming. After Dave’s death, Linda continues to think about the house. Her struggle of recovery is very different from “all the other victims”—the majority of the attention is on students and their parents.
Linda is isolated in her grief, forced to bear the trauma of her loss alone because she is separate from the other families of victims.
Kathy Ireland, Patrick Ireland’s mother, is full of rage toward the killers. Patrick urges her to forgive them, and Kathy agrees to try, inspired by her son’s capacity for empathy. Patrick’s recovery is a slow one, and he struggles. After nine and a half weeks at Craig Hospital, Patrick walks out the doors on July 2nd, over two months after the attack. It is an exhausting summer full of therapy, but Patrick is soon walking much more steadily. Patrick, a former jet skier, longs to get back in the water, but he knows he cannot. He breaks down—not angry at Eric or Dylan, but just angry.
Patrick’s journey, still a mirror for the most successful aspects of the larger community’s journey, reaches a major turning point. He goes home and enters a new phase of recovery, but still bears the emotional scars of his trauma.
Columbine is set to reopen on August 16th. School officials know that the atmosphere on that morning will mean “everything” going forward. They want students to return feeling as if they’d made a clean break. Administrators consult with psychologists and grief experts and come up with an “elaborate ritual” for the reopening, known as “Take Back the School.” In order for the ritual to have resonance, the community needs an “adversary to overcome.” Picking that adversary is an “easy choice”: the media. As local news outlets continue to run Columbine stories daily, the students lash out against the media that has “made their lives hell.” At the Take Back the School event, parents and neighbors form a human shield against the press—“a human wall of shame.”
Because of the “vacuum” that has emerged in Columbine due to the death of the shooters in the attack and the resulting absence of a tangible place to lay the blame, administrators decide to make the media into the enemy, and their plan is effective. They know they must create a sense of community at the school at any cost, and decide that focusing on keeping the media out will be the most effective thing they can do.
Mr. D warns his students that the “new kids” at Columbine will “never understand” what they’ve been through, and they should “help them [to]” rather than shutting them out.
Mr. D continues to create a sense of safety and community, and urges his students to practice compassion in the face of trauma and confusion.
The morning of the school’s reopening, the human shield is 500 people strong by 7:30 a.m. Students are dressed in t-shirts that read “WE ARE COLUMBINE,” and Mr. D delivers a rousing address to the students before raising the flags from half-mast for the first time since April 20th. Patrick Ireland leads the teeming crowd of students back into their school.
The entire Columbine community returns to their school, with Patrick Ireland at the front. They are well on their way to recovery, though there is still a long road ahead.