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'I hope this didn't happen in vain'

Published April 21, 2000 at 4:26 p.m.

Sheera Poelman, 16, a Chatfield High student, passes a torch inscribed with the names of the teacher and 12 students slain at Columbine High last year, after a service at the Trinity Christian Center.

Sheera Poelman, 16, a Chatfield High student, passes a torch inscribed with the names of the teacher and 12 students slain at Columbine High last year, after a service at the Trinity Christian Center.

— Columbine shooting victim Richard Castaldo, 18, emotional and halting, told a church memorial service Thursday that the anniversary of the school massacre was one of the hardest days of his life.

But he persisted with his message: "I think the focus should be, if you are raising kids, be sure they grow up right."

Sitting in his wheelchair on the floor before a platform of dignitaries, Castaldo said softly, "I don't think they had that." He was referring to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, whose rampage was the worst school shooting in U.S. history.

Castaldo is paralyzed from the chest down after having been shot by the pair.

When he broke down in tears, the audience rose in tearful applause.

He lifted his head and tried to speak again.

"I spent the last couple of days trying to find my words, and I can't find them," he struggled to say.

He made a plea for individual responsibility.

"I hope this all didn't happen in vain," he said.

Castaldo's message was echoed by other speakers in the two-hour service, which drew as many as 2,000 to Trinity Christian Center. Large TV screens flanked the altar, showing closeups of the speakers, and pictures of the 13 who were slain in the attack hung over it. A torch engraved with the names of the 13 victims was passed among 13 young people to end the service.

The breakdown in family ties that led to the shootings could occur again "unless parents, especially fathers, develop emotional links with their children," said Josh McDowell, a lecturer who was keynote speaker at the memorial service.

"I don't care what we do with trigger locks and gun control legislation," McDowell said. "If we want Columbines to stop, we parents must learn how to enter each young person's complex and confusing world."

Gov. Bill Owens said the "victims of Columbine are in God's favor. I find comfort in the fact they are up there on our side."

Darrell Scott, father of slain student Rachel Joy Scott, said he hosted the service "to thank the people of Colorado for their tears, sympathy and outpouring of thoughts for us."

He introduced his daughter Dana Scott, who performed as a mime, while videotape on the giant screens showed her late sister miming to the same song in a talent show.

Scott and Beth Nimmo, Rachel's mother, also released a book about their daughter titled Rachel's Tears. The title came from a drawing she made less than two hours before her death, showing 13 tears from her eyes watering a flower.

The messages were "excellent" said Justin Bergfalk, 18, a senior at Bear Creek High School, who was among young people talking after the service.

But Naomi Porter, 19, a freshman at Colorado Christian University, said lessons of tolerance and acceptance that Columbine should have taught were unpopular.

"I don't see people heeding the message of Columbine to love people with their whole heart," she said. "Everyone wants to stuff grief and not deal with it."

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