This Friday night, as he is on most Friday nights, Coach Dave Sanders is at the Columbine Lounge, which is “an ass-kicking strip-mall honky-tonk.” Coach Sanders has lived in Jeffco since 1974—he moved from a rural community in Indiana to find that Jeffco was also pretty rural. Now, however, it has been suburbanized, and the affluent community that has risen up has been deemed “New Columbine.” The Harrises and the Klebolds are in that category.
Through Dave Sanders’s journey to Columbine and his witnessing of how it changed over the years, Cullen sets the scene for what the community looks like now—a well-to-do suburban enclave that revolves around the high school.
Columbine High was built in 1973 as the community “brace[d] for an influx.” It was renovated and expanded in 1995—“curving green glass” now covers the face of the commons, and the new library is only four years old. Jeffco has “no main street, no town hall, library, or name.” Littleton, though often cited as the location of Columbine High, is a “quiet suburb where the massacre did not actually occur.” The “thirty thousand” new residents of Jeffco who have “clustered around” the school have adopted “Columbine [as] the name of their home.”
Jeffco is a blend of the rural and the suburban, and the high school is such an intricate part of the county that the actual names of the suburbs have been more or less erased in favor of referring to the area around the school simply as “Columbine.” Cullen paints a picture of how large and influential an institution Columbine is, and what an integral part of life it is for residents of Jeffco.
Dave Sanders teaches typing, keyboarding, and economics at Columbine—he does not have a particular interest in these subjects, but they allow him to coach. He coaches seven different sports, and is a quiet but insistent motivator. His daughter, Angela, “grew up” at Columbine, attending practices with her father from the time she was a toddler. Dave is divorced from his ex-wife and has married another woman named Linda Lou, who had two nearly-grown daughters of her own at the time of their marriage. Linda’s daughters, Cindy and Coni, live together with Dave and Angela—all three girls call Dave “Dad.” They are a tight-knit family, and Angela’s children love and idolize Dave, their grandfather, as well.
Dave is a family man with a strong, solid foundation. He is an important member of his community and is beloved by all around him. His tight-knit family is a source of strength and pride, and they too are members of the larger Columbine community. All this positive portrayal of Dave then makes the later tragedy of his death seem all the more heartbreaking.
As prom approaches, many students have struggled to find dates—one of them is Patrick Ireland, who is in love with his best friend Laura. An athlete who plays basketball, baseball, and water skis while maintaining a 4.0, Patrick is “unfamiliar” with indecision and insecurity. Not wanting to make things awkward with Laura—whom he’d had a falling-out with when they were children together—Patrick asks another girl, Cora, to attend the dance with him as friends. At the prom, which is in downtown Denver, Patrick enjoys himself, and even gets to slow-dance with Laura just once. Meanwhile Cassie Bernall, an Evangelical student, was not asked to the prom. She and her friend Amanda choose to attend the after-party together, where “dates [are] optional.” They dance until the sun comes up.
Patrick Ireland is introduced as a truly all-American high school jock—but he struggles too, on occasion, with failure and indecision. Cullen peppers the narrative with accounts of the actions of many of the students who will prominently feature in the Columbine massacre in order to give a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view of the incident, and humanize and bring to life the students who will be affected by Eric and Dylan’s violent actions.