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The Columbine shootings continue to "inspire" Hollywood

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Cullen says he recognizes that the post-traumatic stress experienced by many of the survivors is genuine and ongoing. He had two diagnosed bouts of "secondary PTSD" himself while researching his book, one of which was triggered by a series of school shootings in the news in a matter of days. The two most emotionally trying chapters to write, he says, involved the death of Sanders and, oddly, Klebold's funeral.

"I couldn't get any work done," he recalls. "I was pretty much crying every day. I thought I would get over it. I was about three weeks into it when I realized I was in trouble. I was kind of a mess."

But he believes the downside to revisiting the shootings is outweighed by the good that a thorough, honest treatment of the event could do. He likens the project to Vietnam movies of the late 1970s, which distressed some vets but helped the nation come to terms with the war's legacy. "The whole country did go through Columbine and really needs something that will help them," he says. "So I think we need to do it."

Sam Granillo and other petition signers don't agree. Many of them have strong notions about what constitutes PTSD and what sort of catharsis might be helpful.

"I don't doubt that he went through emotional hardships," Granillo says of Cullen, with whom he's exchanged a few e-mails. "But he didn't witness anything. He probably read a lot of horrible stories, but he did that to himself. None of us chose what happened to us."

The miniseries controversy has only strengthened Granillo's resolve to pursue his own documentary about how his classmates have dealt with the long-term legacy of the shootings. He recently launched a website to promote the project, now called Columbine: Wounded Minds, and has a fundraiser planned for next month.

"There's no reason to relive the tragedy endlessly," he says. "What needs to be done now is, how do we get people help? How do we prevent this from happening in the future? There needs to be a new perspective of the situation, from us — and that has not been done yet."

"For the people who've struggled over the years with flashbacks and nightmares, maybe this film can help motivate them to get help," says Hochhalter, who's a strong supporter of Granillo's project. "Other people have had struggles and gotten help, and it really did improve their lives. I'm happy with my life. I have a really good support system, and I think that's key."

Many of the people Granillo is interviewing for his documentary have never talked publicly about the attack before. It's difficult work, he says, and easy to get off track, as subject and interviewer start reminiscing about various friends they lost, or share little stories about life at Columbine before everything was utterly transformed. "It's so close to home," he says. "I can ask questions nobody else can even think of."

Recently, Granillo sat down with Frank DeAngelis, who remains at the helm of Columbine after all these years, the person reporters seek out for every anniversary story. For the first 45 minutes, the interview trudged forward as just another retrospective — the same canned questions and answers. Then Granillo asked his old principal what was really going on in his head, having to be the spokesman and public face of Columbine.

DeAngelis thought about it. He began to talk more candidly than Granillo had ever heard him talk before. The two spent the next four hours in conversation about the school they loved and mourned.

"It was both of us," Granillo says, "sharing things we could relate to. Things we knew, that you had to be there to know."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast