Columbine Principal on Virginia Tech Shooting

Columbine High School's principal, Frank DeAngelis, was at a meeting off-campus this morning, when he got a call from the school. There's been another school shooting, his secretary told him, just as he's been notified every time students are murdered at school. That way, he can prepare to help the staff and students at his school deal with the onslaught of bad memories, which are never far away. When he heard the news this morning, he says, he was taken right back to that horrific April nightmare, eight years ago, almost to the day, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold gunned down 12 students and one teacher.

NEWSWEEK: What went through your mind when you heard the news this morning?
Frank DeAngelis: Very vivid memories of what occurred that day and the aftermath. It's a feeling of nausea. It's hard to explain, almost a state of shock.

Do you have any advice for the people at Virginia Tech who are now dealing with the tragedy?
They're just dealing with so much like I was almost eight years ago. I'll leave a number and offer support and offer advice. A lot of times they just need someone to listen. I'll be here now, a month from now, a year from now.

What should they do now?
Number one is just getting support from all the different agencies. They need to bring the police together, medical people together. Communication is the key. Getting accurate information out. Providing counseling services and support that your students on campus are going to need. My specific advice for the president and other administrators is that they need to take care of themselves. Otherwise they can't help others.

How are your students handling the news?
As time goes on, they get home this evening, watch television, start reading, I can assure you that many people will be re-traumatized. Many were in second grade when the tragedy occurred. Teachers who are still at Columbine will be affected. Teachers who are not still at Columbine will be affected. People experience post- traumatic stress disorder.

How has the community been doing lately?
Friday will be eight years. The month of April is very difficult for the Columbine community. Any tragedy in which lives are lost is very difficult. Especially for Columbine.

Did you have anything planned to mark the eighth anniversary of the Columbine shooting?
I made a decision several years ago not to hold school on that particular day. That was my way of honoring the 13 who died and the 20 who were injured. For teachers and staff, it's a staff development day.

What would you say to kids in Virginia?
It's difficult. One thing I learned is there's not one plan that addresses the needs of everyone. You're going to have kids in a state of denial. Others who need to be with others. I would strongly recommend they seek the support of others. There are so many people out there who care and are there to support them in their thoughts. I did talk to someone immediately following the tragedy. If you're not strong enough yourself, you won't be able to help.

How could this happen again?
Someone asked me, would metal detectors have stopped it. It's a deeper issue than that. If you have a metal detector and someone comes on campus, they just shoot the guy who's manning the metal detector. What causes so much hate in a person's heart that they're willing to go out and kill another? We're living in a society of violence. There's so much attention on school shootings. But there are young kids dying on a daily basis to violence. Whether it be gang warfare [or other forms of violence]. It's occurring.

Have we learned anything since Columbine?
Evidently, we have not. Why do these kids not value life? What are we going to do within our society? What do we do as parents? If you could pinpoint what causes a school shooting, what causes violence, you can correct it. Because you cannot, that's what makes it so difficult. I was at an FBI symposium in the summer of 1999. A psychologist stood up and said there's someone right now planning something more devastating than what happened at Columbine High School. It's a situation that society needs to deal with. We need to say enough is enough.