Inside High School Principal's Thoughts on 1999 Columbine Massacre That Rocked the Nation

On April 20, 1999, two students opened fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing 12 fellow students and a teacher. They then committed suicide.

The principal, Frank DeAngelis, found himself face-to-face with one of the gunmen after gunshots rang out in the hallways. This shooting was one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.

During a recent interview with PEOPLE, DeAngelis, who was only in his third year as principal when it happened, said that the gunman was only a few hundred yards from him. It was 17-year-old Eric Harris.

Frank DeAngelis during the Columbine Remembrance Ceremony at Clement Park in Littleton, Colorado, on April, 20, 2019. | Photo: Getty Images

Frank DeAngelis during the Columbine Remembrance Ceremony at Clement Park in Littleton, Colorado, on April, 20, 2019. | Photo: Getty Images

During the shooting, DeAngelis heard shots and heard glass breaking behind him. "My worst nightmare became a reality," he said. The tragic incident changed DeAngelis forever.

While hundreds of local, state, and federal law enforcement officers lay siege outside of the school, two killers spent more than three hours spreading terror among the students.

Frank DeAngelis during the Columbine Remembrance Ceremony at Clement Park in Littleton, Colorado, on April, 20, 2019. | Photo: Getty Images

Frank DeAngelis during the Columbine Remembrance Ceremony at Clement Park in Littleton, Colorado, on April, 20, 2019. | Photo: Getty Images

Both Harris and Dylan Klebold were reportedly a part of a loose gang called themselves the Trenchcoat Mafia, which included about a dozen juniors and seniors at the school.

The security preparedness of U.S. schools has greatly increased over the last 20 years.

Frank DeAngelis speaks during the Vote For Our Lives rally and vigil at Columbine High School on April 19, 2018 in Littleton, Colorado. | Photo: Getty Images

Frank DeAngelis speaks during the Vote For Our Lives rally and vigil at Columbine High School on April 19, 2018 in Littleton, Colorado. | Photo: Getty Images

It was reported that some members were fascinated by death. One senior, who played soccer with Harris and Dylan, recalled that they appeared to be misunderstood and had faced bullying.

It's entirely possible that Klebold, Harris, and the rest of their group felt especially out of place at Columbine, a school known to have one of the best sports programs in the state.

There was some evidence that the two killers could have plotted their attack for a while. Amidst the carnage, Klebold and Harris were found dead in the library by police.

Both of the murderers had reportedly wired their own bodies with explosives before committing suicide to continue the killing even after their own death. 

The security preparedness of U.S. schools has greatly increased over the last 20 years. Local police have relied on school blueprints since the Columbine tragedy to help map out response plans.

In related news, eight people were killed, and one person was wounded in a series of shootings that occurred in Atlanta, Georgia, in March 2021. The suspect was identified as Robert Aaron Long.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.

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