The video clip shown on the national news the morning of July 20th of people running out of the movie theater seemed like a clip out of a horror film. The blood spattered clothes, the running and screaming people that the cell phone cameras picked up was both reality and terror combined. When I found out it happened in my own state of Colorado, a collage of mind rendering video began to replay itself of past and awful events.
The horrific images of Columbine High School raced in my mind’s eye while watching the Aurora events unfold on television. I said to myself, “What is going on with these people who have to kill people who are minding their own business?” The video in my mind began to blend together – the students running out of Columbine; students running out of Platte Canyon High School in Bailey and now the Century theater in Aurora. All this at 5:00 a.m. on a Friday morning. I flipped from station to station not believing what I was seeing! The images forever embedded in my brain.
The death of Colorado’s peaceful image began on April 20, 1999 when Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold planned to murder hundreds of students. They ultimately killed 12 students and 1 teacher and wounded 21 other students, and then each committed suicide. I can recall so very well the images of students running out of school in single file with hands held high into the air while the police had guns drawn looking at each student that passed by, as seen from the camera on a news helicopter overhead. The day was cloudy and fit the mood of our state and the nation. The news media began reporting the events while the nation looked on. My phone began to ring with friends and family asking how close the school was to our home. The news was slow in coming, and many waited anxiously by their televisions for any news. The news got worse and worse as the day progressed. None of us slept well that night.
I visited Columbine High school the following day. As expected, it busy with local and national news trucks, reporters and hundreds of people milling about. All of Colorado was in a state of shock. We mourned, wept, held and consoled each other while the nation watched and prayed for us. Those were dark days for Colorado and the nation.
Then several years later on September 27, 2006 Colorado had another tragic event happen, this time in the small mountain town of Bailey, Colorado. Fifty-three year old Duane Morrison entered Platte Canyon High School carrying a .40-caliber Glock and a back pack he claimed was filled with explosives. Morrison took 6 high school girls hostage. After several hours he released 4 of them. When the police broke into classroom to confront Morrison, he shot Emily Keyes in the head and then committed suicide.
How well I remember that awful day. I was one of the few photographers stationed with the other major news media outlets, CNN, ABC, NBC, FOX news who were stationed at the middle school in Bailey waiting for the bus loads of children to return from High School. Along with the press were hundreds of parents, family, friends, teachers, school officials, police, and deputy sheriffs, waiting for the students to exit off the bus. I wept tears of joy as I took pictures of kids reuniting with their parents. Parents wept, children wept, even seasoned news reporters wept. Word spread that one student was shot and was flown to Denver in critical condition. After returning home, I turned on the news to learn that Emily Keyes had died from a gunshot wound. I just stared at the television screen in silence.
This time it was a different time, a different room, a different day…yet, now I was focused on watching people running for their lives from a killer in a theater in Aurora, Colorado. I made a promise to myself after the Platte Canyon shooting that I would never again photograph such pain and suffering. It was too much to bear and caused many a sleepless night. I couldn’t forget the faces of parents weeping, the faces of children in shock, and the faces of the police who could do nothing after Emily Keyes death. Has Colorado lost her innocence? In some ways yes, but not due to the majority of peaceful people who grace this beautiful state. But from those whose intent is to rob us of our eternal peace from within. They want to suffocate us with fear, death, terror, and use terror to make it happen.
I, for one, am sick of what people are saying about us and our state. “What’s in the water of Colorado?” many have asked. “Colorado is becoming a gang state” said another. I love Colorado and all it has to offer. I love the people, the cities, towns, the mountains, the views and the wildlife. That’s one of the reasons I moved here. This is my promise to you who live in Colorado: I will invite family and friends out to colorful Colorado. I will take them to local restaurants, to local gift shops and will show them the views of Colorado they will never forget. I will introduce them to you my fellow Coloradoans, my neighbors, friends, and let them judge for themselves. We who live here are good and decent people. Let’s uplift and encourage each other each and every day.