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Letter From Littleton

Even the weather has been gloomy and sullen. Since the shooting attack at Columbine High School, it has snowed and rained and the wind has blown fiercely here in Jefferson County. The sun has been out for only a few hours. It has been an entirely fitting backdrop to the mood felt by Coloradans and visitors alike.

At sprawling Clement Park, which lies just adjacent to the school, tens of thousands of people have come to pay their respects to the dead and wounded over the past few days. On Friday, in an absolute sea of mud and rain, I saw dozens of parents walking around the makeshift memorial there with their small children, all silent in awe and respect and sadness. Near one of the cars of the victims, Rachel Scott, an elderly couple broke down and cried next to me as they read one of the poems dedicated to her honor.

In the ankle-deep muck, people knelt down in prayer. Others formed circles and sang hymns. Some just shook their heads in disgust. A few covered their faces in their hands and silently cried. But what struck me as particular interesting was the number of teen-agers, the number of young people who came to check things out.

Of course, there were kids in Columbine High School letter jackets - current or former students to be sure. They looked absolutely mortified. But there were also dozens and dozens of teen-agers wearing the letter jackets of other area high schools. All the rivalries, sporting and otherwise, seem so insignificant now. I saw many teen-agers from one school hugging others from other schools.

Corsages from area proms this weekend, meanwhile, were collected and quickly brought to the memorial site. And this week, each high school student across the state will be asked to donate $1 to aid Columbine High survivors and their families.

And the signs. There are so many signs of support and love from so many other students from so many other schools here in Colorado and around the country - elementary schools; high schools, colleges, and universities.

Some kind souls have covered many of them to protect them from the elements; others are slowly being washed away and ruined by the elements. But still more are being placed in Clement Park. More signs and more flowers and more stuffed animals and more tears and more grief.

The Red Cross and Salvation Army trucks are here, too, doling out coffee and sandwiches and care to anyone who asks for it. On Saturday morning, someone donated straw to be placed down in the mud near the largest of the memorials so that people could walk around it in a bit more comfort.

Another company generously donated a pump truck to literally suck the water out of the parking lot and grass around the site. Still, it was so bad this weekend that people were taking off their ruined shoes and walking barefoot through the site.

The two daily newspapers in town have devoted enormous coverage to the attack and its aftermath, focusing both on the gref of the survivors and the criminal investigation now under way in earnest. One paper, either appropriately or cynically - I'm not sure which - has pandered more to the maudlin angles of the story. Talk radio, meanwhile, the cruelest medium, has focused mainly on criticism of the law enforcement officials who, the auditory second-guessers say, were too slow to take control of the scene.

And when the talk-show hosts aren't focusing on that piece of this puzzle, they are coming down hard on the parents of the suspects - this without knowing a single fact about those parents' relationship with their children, their involvement in or knowledge of the attack, or anything else.

After grief comes anger, the therapists say, but it seems so early for so much anger. There will be so much time for anger when the funerals are over, the national media leave, and more facts surface. And besides, I keep hearing from people, who are the talk-show hosts and their callers to judge anyone else?

Finally, amid all the stories of heartbreak over the past few days, there is one that rests for me above all the rest. Perhaps it is because I am the son of a loving mother. Or perhaps it is because the victim was apparently the first to be killed; his body sprawled outside the school for all the news helicopters and the world to see. Whatever the case, I will live the rest of my days remembering the story of Dan Rohrbough's death.

The 15-year-old freshman went to school on the morning of April 20 after showing his mother some pictures of himself which had been taken last fall. His mother had bugged him and bugged him for the pictures and he had finally relented and remembered to bring them home from his locker.

Just a few hours later, Dan Rohrbough died on the cold pavement outside of Columbine High School. He was calling for his mom.

by Andrew Cohen. ©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved

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