LITTLETON, Colo. (CBS4) – For a community leader in a town that still feels the wounds of the shooting at Columbine High School nearly 14 years later, the news of Friday’s mass casualties at a school in Connecticut is sickening.
Principal Frank DeAngelis, who was principal of the Littleton school at the time and remains in the position today, told CBS4 his first reaction to news of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was “Not again.”
“It just made me sick to my stomach. It just takes me back to what we felt on April 20, 1999. Even though it’s going to be 14 years, anyone that was alive during that time or in schools at that time or especially at Columbine, it just takes us back to that horrific day,” DeAngelis said.
DeAngelis said he will wait patiently, but he is available to meet at some time in the future with members of the Newtown community to help them heal.
“This is a big setback. I think throughout our lives when someone goes through a traumatic experience, we all experience post-traumatic stress disorder and there are certain things that just trigger emotions. The Aurora shootings that we had in July, same feeling even though it was a situation that was not similar to Columbine, but people dying unexpectantly, this just takes us all back to that horrific day,” said DeAngelis.
He told CBS4 he knows, sadly, that he is part of a small number of people who are familiar with the challenges victims and their families face in the aftermath of such a tragedy.
“The thing I can tell that principal at this time is, number one, you are not in this alone. Right now I think back to that day that it happened at Columbine. He or she is unaware of what they even need. The thing that I can tell him or her is there is such support out there. What I was told, and it was such wise advise, is you’ve got to take care of yourself in order to take care of others. And you are going to be pulled in so many ways and our hearts go out to him and her and what lies ahead and unfortunately there is a group of people that have been through this and are a great support system and as I’ve stated before, no one wants to be a part of this club,” said DeAngelis. “But unfortunately, because of the events that happened today, that’s exactly what happened. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them.”
For Gov. John Hickenlooper, who guided many victims and their families through the tragedy following the Aurora movie theater shooting this past summer, the Connecticut tragedy was a chance to send a message of healing.
“The shooting in Connecticut is absolutely horrific and heartbreaking. We know too well what impact this kind of violence has on a community and our nation. Our thoughts and prayers are immediately with the families of those killed. We can offer comfort, but we all know the pain will stay forever,” he said in a prepared statement.
Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan is still in the midst of helping his community heal after the shooting in his city, and he also released a statement on Friday.
“Our hearts go out to the people of Newtown. It is almost incomprehensible that an elementary school would be the site of such violence. We join the nation in praying for the victims, their families and all of those impacted by this terrible tragedy.”
“The message that I give when I go out is no one is immune. I mean, this is really a statement about our society where we are. Recently this week we had someone go into a shopping mall in Portland. I think any school or community that says, ‘This could never happen here’ are not being honest. I think it shows the vulnerability. But you just think of these poor little kids that are sitting in a classroom and as parents, you feel one of the safest places for your kids is in a school. This violates everything we believe in,” said DeAngelis.