What Happened During the Columbine Victims’ Funerals?

Updated

Throughout U.S. history, there are few tragedies as shocking and heartbreaking as the Columbine shooting. On April 20, 1999, two teens went on a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Colorado. Of the students, 13 people were killed and more than 20 were wounded before the shooters turned their guns on themselves. 

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At the time, the Columbine shooting was the worst high school shooting in U.S. history. It led to a global debate on gun control and school safety. However, further school shootings in the U.S. continue to keep this debate alive despite concern from parents and victims alike. While a lot is known about the Columbine shooting itself and the victims’ final moments, what happened during the Columbine shooting victims’ funerals? 

It’s important to tell the stories of those who lost their lives in such horrible tragedies. This is especially true for those who lose their lives so young. How we memorialize a loved one impacts their legacy and their story. In this guide, we’ll explain what happened during the funerals of the Columbine shooting’s victims. 

What Kinds of Funerals Did the Columbine Shooting Victims Have?

First, what kinds of funerals did the victims of the Columbine shootings have? All the victims had individual funerals arranged by loved ones. This allowed the family to focus on the specific religions and interests of their loved ones, honoring them in unique ways. Here is how each of the 13 victims was honored:

  • Cassie Bernall: A tribute service was held for the extended community at West Bowles Community Church in her hometown. Her funeral was held on a later date for close friends and family. 
  • Steven Curnow: The youngest of the victims at just 14 years old, his funeral was held at Trinity Christian Center. His friends, teammates, and family members offered eulogies in his honor. 
  • Corey DePooter: Corey always dreamed of joining the Marines when he graduated, and he was granted status as honorary Marine during a graveside ceremony at Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens. 
  • Kelly Flemming: Her funeral was held at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church followed by a burial ceremony at Mount Olivet Cemetery. She was buried with two teddy bears in her arms. 
  • Matthew Kercher: A talented football player, the entire team attended Matthew’s service. Members of the football team wore ribbons with his football jersey number, and they dedicated their next season to Matt’s memory. 
  • Daniel Mauser: Daniel’s funeral was also at St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church. His parents soon founded HOPE (Healing of People Everywhere) to honor their son. 
  • Daniel Rohrbough: This funeral was at Grace Presbyterian Church. 
  • Dave Sanders: Dave Sanders was a teacher at Columbine for 25 years, and he was also a coach to several teams. Though Dave’s family chose to keep his burial private, all were welcome to his funeral at the Church of Christ. The Columbine softball field was dedicated in his honor, and a scholarship was named after him. 
  • Rachel Scott: Known as Columbine’s first victim, Rachel’s funeral was held at Trinity Christian Center. Her burial was private. After her death, her friends turned her car into a makeshift memorial in the Columbine parking lot. 
  • Isaiah Shoels: The last of the Columbine victims to be buried, he was laid to rest in Denver, Colorado. Martin Luther King III spoke at his funeral at the Heritage Christian Center. 
  • John Tomlin: His funeral was held for family only at Foothills Bible Church where he attended with his family. He was buried in his hometown in Wisconsin, and his casket was embroidered with Chevy trucks.  
  • Lauren Townsend: Lauren’s family welcomed all to a visitation at Drinkwine Family Mortuary. A funeral followed at Foothills Bible Church where her brother showed a video paying tribute to her life. Her family encouraged guests to write on the casket like one would sign a yearbook. 
  • Kyle Velasquez: Finally, Kyle’s family also held a public visitation at Drinkwine Family Mortuary followed by funeral services at St. James Presbyterian Church. Since his father was a Navy veteran, he was given military honors during his funeral at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver. 

Though each family chose their own timeline, it was important that every victim was honored in a way that felt fitting. A funeral is a highly personal opportunity to say goodbyes. This is especially true after a tragedy like a mass shooting where lives are taken unexpectedly. As you can see from the list of victims above, each family found a unique way to grieve and honor the lost lives. 

What Was the Public Funeral for All of the Victims Like?

In addition to the smaller funerals, there was a large, public funeral for all of the victims. This outdoor service took place at Columbine High School in Colorado. A crowd of over 65,000 joined to pay respects to those who lost their lives. Vice President Al Gore shared the grief of the crowd, famously saying, “You are not alone. The heart of America aches with you. We hold your agony in the center of our prayers.”

Among him, retired General Colin Powell led a group of dignitaries. There were songs, prayers, and stories. In the audience of the memorial, there was a sea of flowers and blue and white balloons. These honored the school colors. Florists from across the country donated 25,000 bouquets of roses, lilies, sunflowers, daisies, and carnations. 

High school students also flocked from everywhere. They brought banners, signs, and flowers as a sign of respect along with Columbine alumni. As the governor read the names of the victims, 13 white doves were released into the sky to honor the victims. Finally, students who survived the shooting took the podium and shared their stories. 

Finally, the procession created a makeshift memorial around the high school. Mementos, flowers, toys, and signs covered the school fence, honoring the lives lost. Though a larger memorial would be created permanently, this memorial wall was a source of hope for the community. 

Public Memorials for the Columbine Victims Funerals

What happened after the Columbine shooting? Were there any public memorials created to honor the tragedy, and what remains decades later? It’s clear that healing from a tragedy is an uphill battle, but every step forward is worth the effort. 

Columbine Memorial

The largest memorial to the Columbine shooting is the official Columbine Memorial in Littleton, Colorado. This was dedicated to the public on September 21, 2007, as a way to honor the victims of the 1999 shooting. Today, this is an open, public space for all. It’s located at Clemton Park, the perfect outdoor space for reflection. 

Within the center of the Columbine Memorial is the Ring of Remembrance. These unique plaques have a personal reflection to honor each victim. They stand as a lasting tribute to the lives lost. The Columbine Memorial Foundation continues to maintain the memorial through volunteers and donations. 

Greg Zanis’ Crosses

Next, Greg Zanis was an American carpenter who is best known for building and delivering personalized crosses (and other religious symbols) to victims of shootings. Born in Spokane, Washington, his first cross was built for his own father-in-law who was a victim of murder. 

After the Columbine High School shooting, he constructed 13 crosses. This included two crosses for the shooters themselves, though these were created in a different style to separate them from the victims. He placed these in a park near the site of the shooting. Though the crosses for the shooters were cut down by one of the victim’s families, he has since built over 26,000 crosses for victims of shootings and natural disasters. 

Dave Sanders Memorial Softball Field

Lastly, in honor of Coach Dave Sanders who gave his life helping students to safety, the Dave Sanders Memorial Softball Field was dedicated in the summer of 1999. A plaque remains today saying “We Are Columbine” to honor the strength of Sanders and his students. 

While there are few reminders of the shooting at the school itself, this dedication is meaningful to students and faculty alike. Even though it might appear simple, it’s important to keep the victims’ legacies alive in the school’s history. 

Honoring Victims of Columbine

Ultimately, Columbine was a vicious tragedy that changed the conversation around shootings and gun control forever. Though several school shootings have occurred since then, the haunting legacy of Columbine remains imprinted in the hearts of many. 

However, in times like this, it’s essential to focus on the victims. Those who lost their lives and their families deserve to have their stories told, even years later. By taking the time to learn about how they were honored after death, we keep their stories alive and well. This is something that can never fade no matter how much time passes. 


Sources:
  1. Auge, Karen. “Friends, Family Mourn 4 Beloved Teens.” Colorado News: Denver Post. DenverPost.com
  2. “Columbine Shooting.” History. History.com
  3. “You Are Not Alone: Nation Mourns with Littleton.” CNN. CNN.com
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