Deer Creek Middle School shooting strikes way too close to home

Journalists can write about many events dispassionately, but not all -- and for me, there's no chance in hell of tackling the topic of the shootings yesterday afternoon at Deer Creek High School with distanced objectivity.

All three of my children attended Deer Creek. My twin daughters went through a continuation ceremony there less than three years ago; they return frequently and have met or encountered both shooting victims, Reagan Weber, already released from the hospital, and Matt Thieu, who is listed in critical condition at this writing. They also took seventh-grade math from a certain Dr. David Benke, newly minted hero. And my niece -- my goddaughter -- is currently a Deer Creek seventh grader. She was already on a bus when the shooting started. She didn't register the gunfire, but she heard a voice on the radio hurriedly ordering all the buses to leave. Immediately. Lucky thing school was canceled today, because she's nowhere near ready to return there quite yet.

Moreover, memories of Columbine that would have surfaced anyhow were amplified by a school project the night before.

My daughters are currently juniors at Chatfield High School; Deer Creek is one of Chatfield's feeder schools. For their English class, they were asked to create a personal timeline of their lives featuring fifteen significant events. And both of them chose Columbine, in part because of something I did with the best intentions that still lingers in their minds.

Here's how I explained things in "Columbine and the Struggle for Perspective Ten Years Later," published in April 2009.

I live in the Ken-Caryl Ranch area, within a block or two of Chatifield High School, where Columbine students finished classes for the year. When photos of the shooters surfaced, my wife recognized Dylan Klebold; he'd delivered pizzas to our house. And after word of the massacre got out, my kids' respective schools were locked down. My twin daughters, who were attending kindergarten at Ute Meadows Elementary at the time, remember the day vividly for reasons I couldn't have guessed at the time. When I got home after picking them up, I told them to play in the backyard because I thought television coverage of the tragedy, which I needed to watch as part of my job, would prove traumatic for them. But they understood more of what was going on than I'd realized, and were thoroughly unsettled by having to stay outside with the sound of nearby TV-news helicopters filling the air.

While assembling the school project, which required that they make a poster board covered with family photos and the like, my daughters needled me in good-natured fashion about my Columbine-related mistake, which has made both of them highly susceptible to anxiety whenever they hear helicopters. Then, less than 24 hours later, helicopters were hovering over Deer Creek, whose proximity to our house meant we could clearly hear their blades from every room.

We keep thinking we'll be able to put these recollections in a safe, remote place, far from our everyday concerns -- but they regularly bubble to the surface again, no matter what we do.

The average person looks back on middle school as a difficult time. It was tough for me and it was tough for my son, who's now in college. But my daughters had a great time at Deer Creek. They blossomed there and regard eighth grade as their favorite school year to date.

Now, however, Deer Creek will have an additional, and frightening, connotation for them thanks to the alleged actions of one Bruco Strong Eagle Eastwood, who'll be charged with attempted murder in Jefferson County Court later this morning -- and due to those persistent echoes of Columbine.