Shooting Bears Resemblance to Columbine High School Massacre

For many in the Columbine community, the frantic scene Tuesday afternoon at Deer Creek Middle School was one they know all too well: Parents running toward the school in tears, frightened students fleeing from the school building and teachers nobly directing masses through fresh snow banks to safety.

Jacqui Kelley, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department in Colorado, pointed out the "eerie" similarities between Tuesday's shooting that left three injured and the 1999 Columbine High School massacre that left 13 dead.

"As we approached the school and saw the cars parked everywhere, parents everywhere, students running, it was a moment of déjà vu," Kelley said. "It was terrible."

Each such incident jars the delicate psyche there and manifests itself in the form of jittery nerves and sleepless nights that many residents say they tolerate because it is, after all, home.

Kelley went through this in 1999 and then again in 2006, when a gunman rushed into the nearby Platt Canyon High School and held several students hostage before killing one and turning the gun on himself.

When reports surfaced Tuesday that shots had been fired at the middle school, three miles away from Columbine High School, Kelley said her heart sank.

"It absolutely sank," she said. "It was very surreal that we were dealing with this again."

The alleged gunman at Deer Creek, 32-year-old Bruco Eastwood, had been subdued by a teacher by the time authorities arrived, but had already sprayed students with gunfire from a high-power rifle, injuring a seventh-grader and an eighth-grader. Both victims are expected to recover.

But for others like Kelley, who lived in Littleton, Colo., during the Columbine shooting and have stayed there in the 11 years since, Tuesday's news triggered flashbacks of the fateful April day when the otherwise sleepy high school became the site of one of the country's deadliest shootings.

Colorado School Shooting Recalls Memories of Columbine Massacre

Kent Friesen was a chemistry teacher at Columbine High School in 1999 and still lives in the area, although retired.

"The first thing I thought when I heard [about Deer Creek] was 'Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh,'" Friesen said.

"I just kept saying to myself that it fits the M.O., and it does," said Friesen, using the common abbreviation for method of operation. "It hits you hard."

On the day of the 1999 shooting, Friesen was in the science wing of the school when seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire with their automatic weapons, killing 12 students and one teacher. Twenty-four others were injured by the gunfire.

Friesen spent hours barricaded in his classroom, and would later see his fellow teacher and girls basketball coach Dave Sanders bleed to death.

"Everyone has different triggers," Friesen, 59, said of the memories of Columbine that he said came back to him Tuesday night when he heard about the shooting.

"The footage of the kids running from the school, that didn't hurt me as much as the helicopters," he said. "And cops, those are just my triggers."

Psychotherapy and the support of his wife, he said, have helped him battle his post-traumatic stress disorder, and he credits them both with saving his life. Friesen said he knows others don't deal with flashbacks as well as he does.

"I just know that I won't sleep well for the next couple of days," he said. "I'll have flashbacks of what I saw, and those kids. You think about the kids who suffered."

Asked why he didn't leave Littleton after the massacre to escape the reoccurring memories, Friesen said he would have had flashbacks no matter where he lived.

"It was hard at first, but it's really important and was important for me to heal," said Friesen, who avoids news reports about Columbine to this day.

In Years Since Shooting, Columbine Community Stays Close

Dave Cullen, author of the best-selling book "Columbine," said many families touched by the Columbine tragedy and those since have stayed in the tight-knit community, shaken together when news of another shooting or bomb scare rocks the area.

"Not everyone realizes that there have been a slew of different bomb scares and threats called in to Columbine High School and other area schools since 1999," said Cullen, who never left Littleton after moving there to report on the massacre when it first happened. "Pranksters play on the fact that they know the administrators have to take it ultra-seriously and they use it against them.

"I've talked to quite a few parents who said when they hear about lockdowns, that they go right back to where they were on April 20, the panic is back," he said.

For Kelley, drawing from the success of rigorous training of parents, teachers and law enforcement officials helps her get through days when she can't believe tragedy has struck again.

"From the ashes of Columbine, so much has been learned, so much has changed," she said. "We saw a response yesterday that proved that and as heavy as your heart is that this happened again, we are so grateful it wasn't worse.

"But there are places in this country that have never experienced one incident like this, and we've had three," she said. "It's difficult."