Suburban Denver debates tearing down Columbine school


DENVER (AP) — Two decades after the name "Columbine" became synonymous with a school shooting, the suburban Denver community surrounding the school is debating whether it's time to tear down a building that also became a beacon for people obsessed with the killings.

School officials said the number of people trying to get close to or even inside the school reached record levels this year, the 20th anniversary of the 1999 attack that killed 13 people.

People try to peek into the windows of the school library, mistaking it for the long-demolished room where most of the victims died, or ask people on campus how to take a tour.

The buses full of tourists have mostly stopped over the years, but not the visitors. This year alone, security staff contacted more than 2,400 "unauthorized" people on Columbine's campus.

Then, a few days before the anniversary, a young woman described as obsessed with the attack flew to Colorado and bought a shotgun, killing only herself yet sparking lockdowns and new fears. School security has intercepted others with a similar infatuation with the crime and its teen perpetrators – the so-called Columbiners.

District security chief John McDonald can rattle off some of the most frightening instances of people who came to the campus: An Ohio couple later charged with planning a domestic terror attack; a Utah teen later arrested for a bombing plot against his school; and a Texas man apprehended at the school after he said he was filled by one of shooter's spirits and intended to "complete his mission."

"These people, they want the building," McDonald said. "They want to experience it, to walk the halls. ... The only way we can stop that interest in the building is to move it. Otherwise they're not going to stop coming."

But Columbine, named after Colorado's state flower, represents more than one day to this suburban area southeast of Denver.

Boisterous call-and-response chants of "We are Columbine" dominate school pep rallies and more solemn occasions including an April ceremony marking the anniversary. At the nearby memorial just over a crest named "Rebel Hill" for the school's mascot, a plaque quotes an unnamed student: "You're a Columbine Rebel for life and no one can ever take that away from you."

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