LITTLETON, Colo. — In the 20 years since the massacre at Columbine High School, the building has become a macabre tourist attraction for the curious and the obsessed. They travel from as far as Brazil or Japan, hoping to walk the halls, to look for the two teenage gunmen’s lockers. They come every day, and more come with each passing year.
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Now, in an effort to stop the escalating threats against the school and lessen Columbine’s perverse appeal to copycats and so-called Columbiners, school officials are proposing a radical idea: Tear it down.
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“The morbid fascination with Columbine has been increasing over the years,” Jason Glass, the superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools, wrote Thursday in an open letter titled “A New Columbine?” “We believe it is time for our community to consider this option.”
School officials said they were still in the early stages of exploring what to do, but one idea was to scrap much of the existing structure and rebuild it farther from the road, where entry onto the school grounds could be better controlled and tour buses could not get such an easy glimpse. The school would keep its silver and blue colors and mascot, the Rebels.
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Its name would remain Columbine High School.
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The idea has divided a tight-knit community of current Columbine students, survivors of the 1999 attack and victims’ families, who share a fierce love for the school. It has also stirred a debate about whether schools, churches and other places devastated by mass shootings can ever exorcise their legacy by demolishing the buildings where the violence unfolded
“My heart says, ‘No way,’” said Josh Lapp, 36, who was in the library that day when the two teenage gunmen entered and started shooting. “It’s not changing anything.”
Some survivors said that their memories of hurt and healing were still bound up in Columbine’s concrete walls, and that the school should be preserved. Others doubted that school officials could actually succeed in erasing Columbine’s dark allure if they simply rebuilt the school on the same grounds and kept its name
On Friday, Ana Lemus-Paiz, 18, a recent Columbine graduate, said most students she had spoken with were against the idea of razing the school. She counted herself among them
Ms. Lemus-Paiz was not even alive in 1999, when the shooting took place, but she said she had been part of a process of community healing that involved reclaiming the school. While the world may look at the building and see the Columbine of 1999 — a symbol of tragedy — the community, she said, had moved on. “That building is a symbol of strength,” she said. “Our community really did bind together to show that we are stronger than what happened.”
Ms. Lemus-Paiz also said that she believed the school’s demolition would do little to stanch the flow of visitors. “As long as the name stands — which it should — people are going to keep coming.”
The 20th anniversary of the attack, in April, was a reminder of that. It had been planned as a time for prayers and memorials, but instead hundreds of schools in Colorado were closed as the authorities frantically searched for Sol Pais , an armed 18-year-old woman who law-enforcement officials said was infatuated with the massacre, made threats and had traveled to the state from Florida
John McDonald, the school safety executive director for Jefferson County Public Schools, which includes Columbine, at the time called it a “pilgrimage.”
Mr. Glass, the superintendent, cited Ms. Pais as an example of the concerns at Columbine, and said that school safety officials stopped hundreds of people each year who try to enter the school or are caught trespassing on campus. This year’s numbers were the highest on record
“Most of them are there to satisfy curiosity or a macabre, but harmless, interest in the school,” he wrote. “For a small group of others, there is a potential intent to do harm.”
A new school would be built nearby; one idea is to preserve the high school’s library — where 10 students were killed — and make it a cornerstone of the new campus
The school district released an online survey for residents to consider a ballot measure to allocate up to $70 million for a construction project. There was no time period specified for a decision or possible new construction
In Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six staff members were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, the school district demolished the building, out of respect for the tragedy, and built a new school on a different part of the same property
The new building opened three and a half years after the attack. Security was a chief feature of the design
On Friday, Columbine High School looked just like any another school on a June day: The sun beat down on its tan bricks, the parking lot sat half-empty and a park next door was filled with children in bathing suits, who ran with glee around a fountain
Only a few signs indicated that something darker had happened here — a placard pointing visitors to a memorial and a large sheriff’s truck parked horizontally in front of the school’s doors
Other survivors have decided to maintain mass shooting sites to honor victims
Last month, the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Tex., opened a new sanctuary next to the original site for worship. The congregation converted the old church, where a gunman killed 26 people in 2017, into a memorial to the victims
“We don’t want it to look like a fortress, but we also wanted to make sure everybody could feel safe on the inside,” Pastor Frank Pomeroy said at the dedication of the new building
Not surprisingly, security was also a key consideration in the construction. Mr. Pomeroy, whose daughter was killed in the attack, would not disclose details about the safety features
A refurbished bell from the old building now tolls in the new church