Columbine Memorial: How you can help these much-needed updates come to life

Denver7 Gives, on the occasion of the marking of 25 years since the Columbine tragedy, is asking our community to help ensure the light and peace will be felt at the memorial for many years to come.
donate to columbine memorial denver7 gives2.png
Posted at 9:20 AM, Apr 16, 2024

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. – For years, Rick Townsend has come to the Columbine Memorial to reconnect with his daughter, Lauren, through her words.

She was one of the 13 who lost their lives in the April 20, 1999 tragedy at Columbine High school.

“We found an excerpt from Lauren’s diary and we thought they expressed who she was and the way she thought,” Townsend said.

Twenty-five years after the tragedy that shocked the nation, Lauren’s words, forever etched in stone, still hold up today.

“There’s this one and some other ones that... It’s like they knew something was going to happen,” Townsend said.

rick townsend at columbine memorial.png
Rick Townsend, father of Lauren and President of Columbine Memorial Foundation reads the inscription from her tribute plaque inside the 'Ring of Remembrance'

Part of the diary entry reads: “It usually takes a huge trauma to get people to realize what is important and I feel that it is what is going to happen to wake up everyone, to get in touch with their spiritual side.”

His daughter’s tribute is one of the 13 messages and stories that reflect the stories of the victims inside the memorial’s Ring of Remembrance, which surrounds a “Never Forgotten” ribbon. The ribbon feature was created and designed by the parents of victim Kyle Velasquez.

“This is kind of the central point of the memorial and around the outside are plaques, called the ‘Wall of Healing,’" Townsend added. “And those plaques have quotes from family members, from first responders, students, teachers, to give a feel for the community's thoughts.”

lauren townsend columbine memorial.png
After her death, Lauren Townsend's parents discovered these words in her diary, which became part of the permanent tribute at the Columbine Memorial.

Before the memorial was planned and dedicated on Sept. 21, 2007, Littleton’s Clement Park was where a shocked community gathered and placed flowers, stuffed animals and other objects in tribute to the victims.

Former longtime Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis recalled there was some criticism about the seven years that had passed between the shooting and the opening of the permanent memorial, but the community was determined to envision a design that would meet the moment.

"And so we waited,” DeAngelis said. “I”m so glad that we did because it is beautiful.”

Groundbreaking happened in June of 2006 and the Columbine Memorial opened the next year.

“I can't tell you the number of times I go up there at night just to sit and reflect,” said DeAngelis, who is a current board member of the Columbine Memorial Foundation.

From left, Dawn Anna Beck, mother of one of the victims of the massacre at Columbine High School, is joined by the school's principal, Frank DeAngelis, and former President Bill Clinton, in standing during the singing of the National Anthem before a groundbreaking ceremony for a memorial to the victims of the school massacre on Friday, June 16, 2006, in Littleton, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“We're within a stone's throw away from Columbine without the memorial on the school, because one of the things the families realized is Columbine was going to continue to educate kids,” he said.

He said it would have been difficult to have a memorial on school grounds because of the amount of visitors.

“People would be coming all the time, and so now it works out perfectly," he said. "I truly believe that when they walk out, and I've been there, and I see them walking out of that little entryway, there's tears in their eyes. You feel, you know, that child, or, you know, that husband or father.”

It's been many years now since he retired as Columbine High School's principal and through the board's work DeAngelis continues to look ahead to the memorial's future for the generations who will come and is thankful for the public's financial support through the years.

"We have to project out what we need, because it's going to be there long after we, you know, we're gone," added DeAngelis.

Over the years, improvements have been made to the walkway and the fountains as visitors daily pay tribute to the victims, survivors, first responders and Columbine community.

"And there's so many things you can do. They have a walkway when you walk up and the imagery is phenomenal," said DeAngelis. "Because you can look down on Columbine High School, and you look over there, and there's Columbine Memorial. And it's just beautiful."

Townsend said people visit the Columbine Memorial for many different reasons.

columbine memorial 25 commemoration.png
Days before the 25th commemoration, visitors read about the 13 victims inside Columbine Memorial's 'Ring of Remembrance'.

“There's a lot here about each one of the victims, which was either provided by the families or it was actually written by some of the kids or came out of diaries or other things that they had written,” he said. “And that gives you a real feel for them, for what they were like and what the possibilities were that were lost.”

While Rick steps into the memorial as a father, he’s also President of the Columbine Memorial Foundation which was formed after the completion of the memorial to ensure its legacy.

“The Memorial has grown up and grown older,” he said.

The foundation works with volunteers to help maintain and clean the memorial and daily maintenance is performed by the dedicated and caring team at the Foothills Park and Recreational District, which also takes care of Clement Park.

columbine water feature.png
Tim is dedicated to providing daily TLC to the memorial, seen here cleaning the water feature in preparation for turning on the fountains.

Tim Sanchez, who is also on the board of the Columbine Memorial Foundation, can often be seen in the memorial working on the fountains and providing daily TLC. For Sanchez, taking care of the memorial is a labor of love.

But 17 years after the crowds, including former President Bill Clinton gathered to dedicate the memorial, there as signs time has taken a toll.

“And so we are always dealing with something here to keep the memorial going,” said Townsend.

Under the bright Colorado sun, Townsend points to fading letters on the inscriptions not only on the tributes to the 13 victims but on the plaques of community messages along the Wall of Healing.

columbine memorial wall of healing plaques.png
Visitors pay respects at the memorial's Wall of Healing where many of the inscriptions are fading due to the elements.

“The lettering is coming out - and there’s little bits of that on all of them,” said Townsend.

Repairing the inlays in the letters and the plaques is just a regular part of the upkeep that must be done as the memorial is exposed to Colorado’s ever-changing and sometimes brutal weather conditions.

“Over time to freezing and thawing and light exposures, some of that starts coming out. And it becomes more hard to read or difficult to read the lettering on the plaques,” said Townsend.

columbine memorial fading letters.png
Colorado's sun and weather conditions have taken a toll on the letters on the Wall of Healing.

It’s a process the foundation has performed in the past.

“Because you have to essentially sandblast all of the inlay out and replace it. In the past, I think that cost between $30,000 to $40,000 to do that,” he said.

Townsend walked over to a portion of the memorial near the water feature to point out a few settling issues along a wall.

“The fountain is very solid and built upon some pylons, so we need to get some people to repair things like that and there are some places where the mortar is chipping out,” he said.

As Townsend looks to the future, it’s clear that the biggest need at the Columbine Memorial is an investment in a new lighting system.

columbine memorial wall of healing.png
Lights along the memorial's 'Wall of Healing' are in need of replacement which comes at a hefty cost.

Along the Healing Wall are older halogen lights built into the pavers which generate a lot of heat and tend to burn out.

“The underground connections have got some water in them and some of those are shorting out,” he added. “It makes it difficult to see this wall out here,”

Another issue with the ground lights becomes evident during the winter months.

“Clement Park is kind enough to come in here and plow out the snow, but they have to be really careful because these things are rising up or the pavers are sinking down,” said Townsend. The placement of the lights makes it difficult to remove the snow.

The hope is to redesign the lighting schematic with updated technology with taller poles instead of ground lights that will better shine across the wall making it easier to read the tributes during the evening hours and helping to reduce energy costs.

columbine memorial lights.png
A look at the dated halogen-style lights, many of which are compromised due to water seeping into the underground connections .

Plans are in the works.

“Out of that will become some cost estimates about how much we will need to do that and we’ll be letting everybody know,” he said.

It’s an expensive, but much-needed upgrade to keep the lights shining strongly at the memorial.

“It’s going to be way up into the tens of thousands of dollars to do that, that’s our primary focus right now.”

As these important big projects loom, Townsend points out all work to maintain and improve the Columbine Memorial comes to life thanks to the generosity of private donors, not government dollars.

never forgotten columbine memorial.png
Visitors inside the Ring of Remembrance near the 'Never Forgotten' banner in the foreground.

“We do get support here from Clement Park, in terms of snow removal and some other things, but other than that – any money or funds to rebuild or maintain here are entirely private,” said Townsend. “So we need to get that kind of money or in kind donations from contractors to continue that and go out 25 years or even further,”

Ending the tour of the Columbine Memorial, Townsend points down to the big ribbon that sprawls across the Circle of Remembrance.

“It says ‘Never Forgotten’, and we’ve started an endowment fund and hopefully we can build that out enough into the future, that will help maintain the memorial.”

columbine high school victims.png
The 13 victims of the Columbine High School tragedy.

Which is why Denver7 Gives, on the occasion of the marking of 25 years since the Columbine tragedy, is asking our community to help ensure the light and peace will be felt here for many years to come.

In the secure form below, you can choose 'help update the Columbine Memorial' from the drop down menu to donate or visit the form at this link.

So visitors over the next 25 years and beyond, will learn, remember and be touched by the lives of Cassie Rene Bernal, Steven Curnow, Corey DePooter, Kelley Ann Fleming, Matthew Kechter, Daniel Mauser, Daniel Lee Rohrbough, Rachel Joy Scott, William Dave Sanders, Isaiah Eamon Shoels, John Tomlin, Lauren Townsend and Kyle Albert Velasquez.

Columbine Memorial: How you can help these much-needed updates come to life

Denver7 features the stories of people who need help and now you can help them with a cash donation through Denver7 Gives. One hundred percent of contributions to the fund will be used to help people in our local community.

To donate to this campaign or choose another to support, use the secure form below.

Want more stories of hope and ways to help in your inbox? Sign up to get the weekly Denver7 Gives Email Newsletter 💌