Who Is Frank DeAngelis? New Details On The Principal Of Columbine High School 20 Years Later

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Who is Frank DeAngelis? Who is Frank DeAngelis? New Details On The Principal of Columbine High School 20 Years Later

When two students barged into Columbine High School in the Spring of 1999, they didn't just take innocent lives, they changed the way this country looks at violence in our schools. Did the massacre inspire us to make gun control laws more rigid? Lol, absolutely not, but that is another article (and rant) for another day. Instead, let's talk about the legacy of Columbine's former principal, Frank DeAngelis. After the horrific slaughter, many administrators turned their backs and walked away. But Frank didn't do that. Instead, he rallied, brought his community together and worked at the school for another 15 years. Now, he's opening up about the events of that day in a way he never has before...Who is Frank DeAngelis?

1. His Memories Of That Morning

For former Columbine High School principal Frank DeAngelis, not a day has gone by where he hasn't thought about the fateful morning that changed his life, and our world forever. Frank was standing in one of the school's hallways when he found himself face to face with one of the shooters: 17-year-old Eric Harris. 

“I saw the gunman about 100 yards from me,” Frank told People. “I remember shots being fired and glass breaking behind me,” he says. “My worst nightmare became a reality.” He had no way of knowing it at the time, but this wasn't just an ordinary nightmare, it was a  shocking reality: the most deadly school shooting in the United States to date and an event with an impact that would have far-reaching consequences. 

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2. The Columbine Effect 

20 years have passed since that terrible morning, but to Frank it's something he copes with daily. For years afterward he struggled with serious PTSD and as a result wound up starting The Principal Network, to connect school administrators who might need help or support after a crisis takes place inside of the school. He's in a better place now, but it took him a decade to get there and considering what went down that day, it's no surprise. 

On April 20, 1999, at the very beginning of the school day, Eric Harris and his friend and fellow student, 18-year-old Dylan Klebold entered the school with one plan: search and destroy. They shot and killed 12 students, a teacher and left 24 people with serious injuries, to say nothing of the emotional scars. The town of Littleton, Colorado and the country as a whole were floored by the mass murder. 

3. His Memoir 

Though he issued statements at the time, now, on the 20th anniversary of the murders Frank is sharing his story, his way in a book about the experience and its impact entitled: They Call Me ‘Mr. De’: The Story of Columbine’s Heart, Resilience and Recovery. In the book he shares insights and revelations about not just the day in question, but about its aftermath: “I started to question my faith. Father Ken Leone called me down to the parish and said, ‘Frank, you should’ve died that day. But God’s got a plan for you.’ He said, ‘Many times, difficulties are really lessons in disguise. God is going to be with you every step of the way.’ I went back to Columbine for 15 more years.”

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4. The Miracles 

Another section of the book that is sure to leave you covered in goosebumps is dedicated to the miracles Frank believed that he witnessed that day. For example, as gunfire was going off in the hallway where he was, he spotted a group of young women who needed help fast. “They were right in the crossfire of the gunman,” he said. “I got them into an area away from the gunman, but he continued to come after us.”

As the principal, Frank, who retired in 2014, carried on his person a ring containing more than 40 keys at all times. He knew that if the girls were to have any chance of survival he would need to unlock the gym door and get them inside, but he was petrified thinking about how long it might take him to find the right key. “The first key I pulled out, I stuck it in the door, and it opened,” he said. “On the first try. It’s pretty remarkable.”

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5. The Legacy's Impact On Him 

While the years continue to pass, the impact of the students he lost, the students he saved and the friends who gave up their lives along the way is with Frank constantly. When students who survived, who are now in their 30s, send him updates including photos of their own children it's all he can do to hold back the tears. “They say, ‘If it wasn’t for you, these kids wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be here,'” he says. “They are my kids, and they’ll always be my kids,” said Frank. “As a parent, you want to protect your kids at all costs, and on that day, unfortunately, 12 of my kids and one of my dear friends, Dave Sanders, died.” While they may no longer walk with us, Frank keeps them alive in his memory and in his touching introduction to the memoir about his experience. 

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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cats, Batman and Margot. Her work focuses on relationships, pop culture and news. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr