LITTLETON, Colo. – The “boy in the window” – who fell bloodied and paralyzed into the arms of rescuers during the horrifying Columbine High shooting rampage – is doing just fine.
Now 27, Patrick Ireland has regained mobility with few lingering effects from gunshot wounds to his head and leg a decade ago. He is married and works in the financial services industry. His mantra: “I choose to be a victor rather than a victim.”
Like Ireland, many survivors of the April 20, 1999, massacre have moved on to careers in education, medicine, ministry, retail.
But emotional scars still can trigger anxiety, nightmares and deeply etched recollections of gunfire, blood and bodies.
Some have written books; a few travel the world to share their experiences to help victims of violence.
“People have been able to have 10 years to reconcile what happened and see what fits in their life and who they are,” said Kristi Mohrbacher of Littleton, who fled Columbine as the gunfire erupted. “It’s kind of a part of who I am today. I think my priorities might be a little bit different if I hadn’t had that experience.”
Just after 11 a.m. on that day, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, stormed the suburban school, killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding about two dozen. The massacre ended with the gunmen’s suicides not quite an hour later.
Sean Graves saw the pair loading weapons in a parking lot and thought they were preparing a senior prank with paintball guns.
Graves, Lance Kirklin and Daniel Rohrbough were walking toward them for a better look when the gunmen opened fire, killing Rachel Scott and Rohrbough and critically wounding Anne Marie Hochhalter, Graves and Kirklin, among others.
In the second-floor library, Ireland was about to finish some homework when he heard pipe bombs exploding in the hallway. Debris fell from the ceiling and a teacher shouted for students to take cover.
Klebold and Harris strode in and shouted for students to stand up, laughing and ridiculing classmates as they sprayed bullets.
Ireland was under a table with Dan Steepleton and Makai Hall when they were shot in the knees. Ireland was shot twice in the head and once in a leg and lost consciousness.
The killers shot out a library window. Graves, lying partially paralyzed on a sidewalk below, worried that they would return. He smeared blood from his neck wound on his face and the ground to make it appear he was dead.
Harris and Klebold killed 10 students in the library before they left to reload, which gave some survivors a chance to flee. Steepleton and Hall tried to pull Ireland but couldn’t move him far before they fled for safety.
Shortly before noon, the gunmen returned to the library and committed suicide.
Ireland awoke some time later, his vision blurred. With fire alarms sounding and strobe lights flashing, the partially paralyzed teen began to push himself toward the bullet-shattered window.
Over the next three hours, he pulled his body along, lost and regained consciousness, then moved again through tables and chairs and past classmates’ bodies. He figures he traveled about 50 feet to the window.
“I thought how much easier it would be just to give up, stay there and let somebody come get you or whatever would happen to you,” Ireland said.
“But every time those thoughts came in my mind, I thought about all the people that I would be giving up on. … It was really the friends and family I would be letting down that kept me going.”
Ireland pushed himself up to the window and got the attention of SWAT teams below. He doesn’t recall flopping over the sill and dropping into the arms of rescuers, the image that grabbed the attention of TV viewers nationwide.
Graves, now 25, moved into a suburb near the mountains, where he recently purchased a home with his fiancee, Kara DeHart, 22. He walks with a limp and still feels pain but keeps a positive attitude. He plans to return to college to pursue a career in forensics science, a path that began to interest him after Columbine.
On today’s anniversary, Graves will go back to the spot where he was shot, smoke a cigar and leave another on the ground for Rohrbough, something he does every year.
With two children at Columbine, Ted Hochhalter watched the drama unfold on television while waiting in a Seattle airport for a flight back to Denver. He arrived to find his daughter, Anne Marie, paralyzed and in critical condition, and that his son Nathan had been trapped, but unhurt, in the science wing for four hours.
He took a leave of absence from his job as a government emergency management coordinator. Six months later his wife, Carla, who had a history of mental illness, walked into a pawn shop, picked up a gun and committed suicide.
Hochhalter believes the aftermath of the shootings exacerbated his wife’s illness. “It got to a point where she made a choice,” he said.
He moved the family into the mountain community of Bailey and married Katherine Zocco, a massage therapist specializing in neuromuscular, spinal cord and brain injuries, who worked with Anne Marie and other Columbine survivors.
Anne Marie, now 27, graduated from Columbine in 2000 and lives in a Denver suburb where she works as a retail store manager and a child advocate. Her father retired with a medical disability for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The elder Hochhalters are working with John-Michael and Ellen Keyes, whose daughter Emily was killed in a 2006 school shooting in Bailey, to get parents involved in school emergency management programs.
Ireland, the boy in the window, endured grueling therapy to regain the use of his legs, and he had to relearn how to read, write and talk.
With a control-your-destiny determination, he graduated as valedictorian from Columbine and magna cum laude from Colorado State University. Today, he is a field director for Northwestern Mutual Finance Network in the Denver area and has been married to Kacie for nearly four years.
Ireland recognizes he’ll long be remembered as the face of Columbine because of his dramatic rescue. He accepts it as a way to emphasize that Columbine should be another word for “hope and courage.”
And how does he want to be remembered?
“A triumphant recovery and success story.”