Healing After Columbine: Survivors, Victims' Families Talk About Moving Forward

PHOTO: Anne Marie Hochhalter was one of the survivors of the Columbine massacre on April 20, 1999.
PlayCourtesy Anne Marie Hochhalter
WATCH Columbine Victims, Survivors Remembered: Part 6

Sue Klebold, the mother of Columbine killer Dylan Klebold, is breaking her silence for the first time about how she dealt with her son’s involvement in the massacre, but Columbine survivors and victims’ families are also still grappling with the pain of that horrific day 17 years ago.

Columbine survivor Anne Marie Hochhalter was a student at Columbine High School when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris opened fire on April 20, 1999. She was one of the 24 people wounded. Thirteen more would die before Klebold and Harris turned their weapons on themselves and took their own lives.

Hochhalter was shot twice, once in the back and once in the upper arm. She was paralyzed from the waist down but the arm wound was the one that was life-threatening, she said, because the bullet went through and “hit everything.” She suffered nerve damage and endured a long, painful recovery, but over time she said she tried to move on and find peace.

“I realize that holding onto that anger does nothing,” she told ABC News. “You know, it just brings you down.”

About five years after the shooting, Hochhalter said Dylan’s mother Sue Klebold tried to reach out to her, but she didn’t reciprocate at the time.

“It wasn’t a reflection of her,” she said. “I couldn’t handle it.”

But on Thursday, Hochhalter posted an open letter to Sue Klebold on her public Facebook page, saying “I have forgiven you.”

Sue Klebold told Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview that she made efforts to reach out to and wrote letters to all of the survivors and victims’ families. The interview coincides with the release of Klebold’s new memoir, “A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy,” out on Feb. 15. Klebold said she is donating profits from her book towards research and charitable foundations focusing on mental health issues.

ABC News attempted to speak to every family prior to airing our special edition of “20/20” on Klebold’s first television interview since the tragedy.

Some expressed anger. After a judge’s decision to seal 2003 depositions given by the Klebolds and the Harrises until 2027, several families vocalized their disappointment, hoping that the killers’ parents would push for transparency. Klebold told Sawyer she believes those depositions should be made public.

One of those parents is Brian Rohrbough, the father of one of the students killed, who told ABC News that except for the letter Klebold wrote, he never heard her say she was sorry, she never asked him for forgiveness.

Another student, Patrick Ireland, was 17 years old when he was shot twice in the head and once in the foot. He is partially paralyzed on the right side. He became known as “the boy in the window” after he was seen trying to escape out from the school’s library and suffered traumatic brain injury. He prefers to forget the shooters’ names and their families so he can move on.

Columbine survivor Patrick Ireland is pictured here in April 2009 on the 10th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado.Dan Callister/REX/Shutterstock
Columbine survivor Patrick Ireland is pictured here in April 2009 on the 10th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado.

“I’ve got past it to the point where I’m not angry,” Ireland said. “During my rehab I didn’t have time to give them the time of day. I was just focusing on me getting better and doing everything I could do and improve my situation.”

Other families said they wanted to offer Sue Klebold their prayers. Rachel Scott was the first to die at Columbine, and after her death, her family set up a foundation called Rachel’s Challenge that focuses on teaching forgiveness and has now reached more than 22 million students.

“Our family talked about all this and we made a choice to forgive and to move on and celebrate Rachel’s life,” said her father Darrell Scott.

Though he has never met with either the Klebolds or the Harrises, he said he has never felt angry at either set of parents.

Tom Mauser’s son Daniel was also killed that day. He now wears his son’s shoes on his mission to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. He said he met with the Klebolds and the Harries, and afterwards, felt that it was a “big relief” that “it helped turn anger into understanding.”

PHOTO: Tom Mauser holds up a pair of shoes belonging to his late son, Daniel, who was killed in the Columbine High School shooting, during a rally at the Capitol in Denver, April 11, 2000. Ed Andrieski/AP Photo
Tom Mauser holds up a pair of shoes belonging to his late son, Daniel, who was killed in the Columbine High School shooting, during a rally at the Capitol in Denver, April 11, 2000.

Coni Sanders, whose father Dave Sanders was the teacher killed at Columbine, is now a forensic therapist who works with offenders of violent crimes. It’s a career path she chose to honor her father’s memory, and she hopes her work can help prevent the kind of violence that took her father’s life and promote understanding about mental illness.

Regarding the Klebolds, she said, “my heart bleeds for them. I can’t imagine what they’ve gone through,” adding that she believes Sue Klebold “deserves the right to defend her story.”

Dave Sanders was the teacher killed at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.STEWART COOK/REX/Shutterstock
Dave Sanders was the teacher killed at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.

PHOTO: A basketball signed by the Columbine girls team sits near Dave Sanders casket April 26, 1999 prior to the start of the teachers funeral service in Littleton, Colo.
Rick Wilking/Reuters
A basketball signed by the Columbine girls' team sits near Dave Sanders' casket April 26, 1999 prior to the start of the teacher's funeral service in Littleton, Colo.

Sue Klebold respects the feelings of the survivors and victims’ families, and said she is willing to meet with any of them if they think it will help.

“I don't want to impose myself to do that because it has to be about them … and their healing and what they need,” she told Sawyer.