Columbine survivor recalls return to school after tragedy

(CBS News) DENVER, Colo. - If anyone knows what Sandy Hook children were going through when they returned to school Thursday, it is the students who survived the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., nearly 14 years ago. They, of course, are grown up.

Columbine High School was closed from the day of the shooting in April 1999 until August that year. The reopening of that school capped a long recovery for at least one survivor, Patrick Ireland.

"There was a lot of challenges that went on in those weeks and months," Ireland said. "I think the biggest aspect of it was just the love and support from the community."

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Columbine shooting
A victim of the Columbine High School massacre, Patrick Ireland, is helped from a second-floor window April 20, 1999.
CBS

Ireland was 17 years old when he was shot. He became known as the boy in the window for a picture that captured his rescue: First responders, helping him out from inside the school building. It took him three hours to get there. He crawled past dead classmates, despite gunshot wounds to his head and leg that left him partially paralyzed.

"There were a number of times where I was just passing in and out of consciousness, wondering what was going to happen next, if the gunman would come back in," Ireland said.

The library where he and other students were shot was torn down.

Four months passed before Columbine students returned to their school. They turned it into a celebration. Ireland was there.

"It was very important to be able to, you know, kind of regain control," Ireland said of returning to school. "And it was almost symbolic of, 'Hey this is one of the ways that I'm not going to let evil win.'"
Patrick Ireland at Columbine High School's reopening in August 1999.
Patrick Ireland at Columbine High School's reopening in August 1999.
CBS News

Ireland said it wasn't difficult for him to trust people again.

"In my mind, there was still good in the world, still positive things that can come from negative tragedies like that, and I think that being able to overcome an event like that and move on, there has to be some level of trust that you put in people and in the human spirit."

Today, Ireland is a director at a financial services company. He's married with a 2-year-old daughter. But nothing can fully erase that April day 14 years ago.

He said he carries it with him every day.

"There's a lot of us that live with those - visible or not visible - scars. But, there's the opportunity to move forward and continue to live your life with courage and be able to still accomplish some great things."

Columbine High School is still closed on one day: April 20, the day of the shooting. The school still has the same principal, who told CBS News recently things never completely get back to normal -- just a "new normal."

  • Anna Werner

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