LITTLETON, Colo. – Seven years after the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, hundreds of people joined former President Clinton on Friday for the ceremonial groundbreaking of a memorial honoring the 13 people slain at Columbine High School.
"We're here because we love them. We're here to honor them. We're here to remember them, this day and every day hereafter," said Dawn Anna, the mother of slain student Lauren Townsend. "We're here as a family and as a community that's been through the darkest of days and is coming through to the light."
Clinton, who was here in 2004 for a similar fundraiser, drew cheers when he said he would donate $50,000 to the $1.5 million project. About $300,000 is still needed to pay for the monument to the 12 students and teacher shot to death by suicidal classmates Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.
"I am here today because millions of Americans were changed by Columbine. It was one of the darkest days Hillary and I had in the White House," Clinton said. "This memorial is not only so you don't forget the people you love, but through your lives you honor theirs."
Clinton gave his brief speech as a crowd estimated by organizers at about 2,000 people huddled under umbrellas through a light rainstorm. At times, speakers paused as thunder rolled across the suburban Denver park.
Anna read the victims' names and asked the crowd to remember April 20, 1999.
"Remember the love? Remember the unity? Not just in this community, but in the nation and throughout the world?" she asked. "Remember the horror? Remember how broken your heart felt, that emptiness, that hollow and helpless feeling, pain seared so deeply that it seemed it never wanted to go away?"
The memorial, she said, will always be a place to reflect how lives changed because of Columbine — and to better know those who were lost that day. The site is on Rebel Hill, about 500 yards from the school.
"This is kind of hallowed ground to us and to the students," said Gary Radtke, whose son was taught by Dave Sanders, the slain teacher. "This is where everybody came to grieve after the shootings."
Radtke said the memorial would be "a culmination of all that remembrance and hope that everybody wanted."
Construction was delayed because parents worked to raze the school library where most of the victims were killed. Then almost two years passed before everyone agreed on the memorial's scope and design.
The economic downturn following the Sept. 11 attacks forced the project to be scaled down from $2.5 million to $1.5 million.
The memorial will include a water fountain, an inner Ring of Remembrance and an outer Ring of Healing. There will be one station for each of the victims, and the words of those killed. Messages from their families will be engraved on the outer ring.
Among those in the crowd was Patricia Nielson, an art teacher who was wounded in the attack and huddled under a desk as the killers executed their classmates in the library.
Nielson said she was impressed Clinton has made two visits to Colorado to help. After the ceremony, the former president chatted with many of those in attendance and hugged some of them in the rain.
"I think it will really help us heal," she said.