One Year Later: Much Pain, Slow Change

Richard Castaldo's calendar reads like a busy executive's Day-Timer.

There's a trip to Hawaii, hanging out with friends, the prom and homework. Tucked in between is the first anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, which left Castaldo paralyzed.

It's a day that Castaldo plans to pass quietly with his girlfriend; other survivors are dreading it.

"It's been a very touchy period for everyone," said teacher Patti Nielson, also wounded in the rampage. "Certainly, as we're approaching April 20, the circus is starting up again, and that's stressful."

"The circus." It has become the catchall phrase for everything people here have come to detest since the blood bath of April 20 thrust the comfortable, placid Denver suburb into the gaze of a world aghast.

Now the spotlight is back. Authorities say they expect 100,000 people — about three times the population of Littleton — to visit the school and park during the week of the anniversary.

On the anniversary, classes will be canceled so students and staff can hold a private remembrance away from the spotlight. A public service is scheduled that afternoon in adjacent Clement Park, where a makeshift memorial sprang up after the tragedy. A candlelight vigil will conclude the day.

Castaldo was sitting with Rachel Scott outside the school when students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, both heavily armed and filled with rage, opened fire. Castaldo was hit eight times, surviving by playing dead in a pool of his own blood.

Klebold and Harris strode into the building and scattered explosive devices and gunfire.

Nielson, monitoring the cafeteria, saw Harris, who smiled and shot her in the shoulder. She ran into the school's library, called 911 and then hid as Harris and Klebold entered the library and killed 12 students, a teacher, and themselves.

About two dozen more people, including Castaldo, were injured.

In the aftermath, from Hollywood to Washington, D.C., Americans struggled for an explanation and looked for culprits: Too many guns. Too little God. Crumbling families, unsafe schools, violent video games.

Columbine wasn't the last. In May, a teen-ager opened fire with a .22-caliber rifle, wounding six Heritage High classmates in Conyers, Ga. In December, a 13-year-old student fired at least 15 rounds at a middle school in Fort Gibson, Okla. And in February, a 6-year-old was accused of fatally shooting a classmate in Mount Morris Township, Mich.

One Year Later, Disagreement Over Remedies

The pace of change in the wake of the tragedy has been ponderous.

In the firearms industry, Smith & Wesson, the nation's largest gun manufacturer, has agreed to make its handguns more childproof in exchange for protection against some lawsuits. Other gunmakers have declined to follow suit.

A federal gun-control bill pushed by President Clinton passed the Senate in the wake of the Columbine shootings but failed in the House in June. A conference committee set up to iron out differences has met only once, last August.

On Wednesday Clinton visited Denver to back a proposed Colorado gun-control initiative and pressure Congress for similar action nationally.

But he ran into opposition from gun-rights groups, and at one town meeting, was confronted by student Lance Kirklin, whose face was partly shot off in the massacre. Kirklin told the president he supports the right to own guns.

At the state level, Massachusetts has become the first state to enforce consumer-protection regulation of handguns. There, rules require that guns come with safety warnings, tamper-resistant serial numbers and indicators on semiautomatics that show whether a bullet is in the chamber.

Last month, New York's Republican governor, George Pataki, proposed a package of "commonsense" gun-control measures, including making trigger locks mandatory and requiring dealers and manufacturers to send to a state lab a test bullet and shell casing from every handgun they sell in the state.

Maryland passed legislation this month requiring built-in locks for all new handguns starting in 2003.

In Colorado, lawmakers have largely rejected new gun-control laws, prompting a citizens' drive to put a gun-control measure on the November ballot. It would require background checks on all gun-show buyers. Harris and Klebold used four weapons purchased legally at gun shows by other people.

Today, private dealers at gun shows can still sell guns without conducting background checks on buyers.

"Columbine has clearly affected the public more than it has affected some elected officials," said Tom Mauser, who has become a gun-control advocate since his 15-year-old son Daniel was killed at the school.

Columbine has galvanized citizens at a grassroots level, Mauser says, citing as an example his group, Sane Alternatives to Firearms Epidemic, which is promoting the ballot measure.

"Because the politicians didn't respond to Columbine, the people are going to say, 'OK, I will,'" he said, "and it's going to create momentum and energy."

Restrictions on violence in the entertainment industry have also proved elusive.

"Some states have come up with (non-binding) resolutions," said Julie Thomerson, who heads a school violence project at the Denver office of National Conference of State Legislatures. "But it's difficult to legislate because of First Amendment issues."

After the shootings, President Clinton urged entertainment moguls to tone down the violence, and Congress has held hearings on the issue. "I think a lot of it is kind of political discussion, rather than actual activity," Thomerson said.

Some see changes that have occurred in the entertainment industry as short-lived and cosmetic.

For example, the title of a movie about a high school teacher was changed from Killing Mrs. Tingle to Teaching Mrs. Tingle. The WB network last spring postponed, but eventually aired, a segment of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" that featured an attack on a high school.

"I don't think that I've seen any significant change in terms of media offerings that are out there for the kids," said David Walsh, president of the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family.

Violent video games, which have always raised hackles, were criticized after Columbine because Harris and Klebold were devotees of a game called Doom.

Walsh said the industry agreed last year to an advertising code that rules out slogans like "As easy as killing babies with axes," as one game had been touted.

But efforts to stop stores from selling and renting adult-rated games to minors have fallen flat, and on the whole video games are no less violent, he said.

"They keep pushing the envelope," Walsh said, "making them gorier, more realistic, more violent."

School Safety Is One Area of Real Change

Pamela Riley, director of the Center for the Prevention of School Violence, said schools are doing a better job of assessing safety needs, keeping crime statistics and identifying early warning signs.

Some schools went overboard, expelled children for dying their hair green or making harmless jokes misinterpreted as threats. Last month, four children were suspended from their Sayreville, N.J. kindergarten for three days for pointing fingers at each other and pretending to shoot during a "cops and robbers" game.

Parents protested but school district officials defended the need for a zero-tolerance approach.

In general, knee-jerk reaction has given way to guidelines and procedures, Riley said. School-safety experts stress closer ties between schools and their communities, something the Rev. Steve Poos-Benson of Columbine United Church sees more and more in Columbine area.

"The school board has met with ministers, politicians, the sheriff's office, neighborhood groups," he said. "You've got people who would never have sat down together suddenly sitting down at the table and talking."

"People locally, as well as nationally, are asking the question, 'What do we need to do to keep these types of things from happening in our neighborhoods?"' he said.

"We've woken up, we're asking the right questions," he said, "but we've got a lot of catching up to do."

"I think that someday we will get to the point where there will no longer be school shootings," he said. "But that doesn't mean we're done. It just means we'll have to look for the next way that our children will cry for help."

Associated Press Reporter Robert Weller in Denver contributed to this report.