Rocky Mountain News

HomeNewsLocal News

Daniel Rohrbough: Two families search for serenity

Published April 16, 2000 at 5:52 p.m.

Daniel Rohrbough's family pose at a backyard swing built over the section of sidewalk where the 15-year-old Columbine High School student died on April 20, 1999. Danel's mother and stepfather, Sue and Rich Petrone, in front with their dog, placed the sidewalk behind their home as a memorial to Daniel. His stepmother and father, Lisa and Brian Rohrbough, stand behind them.

Daniel Rohrbough's family pose at a backyard swing built over the section of sidewalk where the 15-year-old Columbine High School student died on April 20, 1999. Danel's mother and stepfather, Sue and Rich Petrone, in front with their dog, placed the sidewalk behind their home as a memorial to Daniel. His stepmother and father, Lisa and Brian Rohrbough, stand behind them.

They are just beyond the lawn — two slabs of concrete, flanked by twin barrels of bright pansies and columbines, yellow and purple and lavender.

Above, a wooden swing and a pewter, heart-shaped wind chime hang from a sturdy beam.

This is where Sue and Rich Petrone come to think, and to remember.

"It's very calming," Sue said, glancing toward the quiet place in the corner of her backyard.

It was on that concrete that her son, 15-year-old Daniel Rohrbough, lost his life last April 20 outside Columbine High School. It is where his body lay, through that maddening day and into the next, his grief-stricken family unable to reach him.

"It's hard to describe, but it means a lot to me to have it here," she said.

A year has passed since the boy with the hearty laugh went to school and never came back.

For his family — which includes his father and stepmother, Brian and Lisa Rohrbough — it's been a year of pains and joys and frustrations.

And happy memories.

The four of them, Sue and Rich, Brian and Lisa, are gathered now, sitting around a wrought-iron table on the Petrones' back patio on a warm, spring day, talking about the past year.

Though Sue and Brian divorced years ago and both remarried, there's no strain in their relationship. At Dan's soccer games, Brian and Rich often sat next to each other and chatted.

"I think we can all say we thank God for that, given this," Brian said. "The most important thing was Dan, long before April 20."

A year later, he still is. And losing him still hurts.

"Sometimes, I wish I were Superman," Sue said, imagining a movie scene where the superhero turned back time. "I know that this can't happen, but I find myself thinking, 'If I wish hard enough, and I do the right things, and I push and push and push, he'll be back."'

On March 2, Dan would have turned 16.

Cards, notes and phone calls from the families of many of the others who died helped these four parents get through the day. Most of those families had already been through that first birthday.

"They knew what we didn't," Brian said.

Frustration intermingles with their pain.

It upsets them that some people want to honor or try to understand two mass murderers. Or that some people aren't held responsible for their actions— Brian points out that the young woman who bought three of the four guns the killers wielded faces no criminal charges.

It angers them that a report a year before Columbine apparently fell through the cracks at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, that nothing was done when one of the killers was accused of making a death threat, building pipe bombs and talking about mass murder.

But as the conversation shifts to Dan, the frustration gives way to memories, many happy, some bittersweet.

There was the day Rich took Dan and a good friend to the driving range. Rich swung his golf club, slicing the ball and sending it ricocheting with a thud off a metal divider.

"Rich!" Dan blurted out as he ducked for cover.

Then the three of them laughed so hard none of them could hit the ball straight.

There was the day Lisa prepared dinner, and she could tell that neither Dan nor Brian cared for it.

She asked each what he thought.

It was OK, Dan said. I didn't like it, Brian said.

"Dad," Dan said, "you're not supposed to just tell her that."

There were the days when Dan, a toddler, fussed in his car seat. To get him to stop, Sue barked like a dog. Each time, it brought a belly laugh from the little boy in the back seat.

"It almost sounded like an old man back there," Sue recalled.

And there was the time, a few years ago, when Brian and Dan planned a trip to the family farm in Kansas to help with the harvest. Dan went off with his grandfather, while Brian stayed home to wrap up some work.

A couple days later, Brian headed to the farm. As he stepped through the front door, Dan — who'd been waiting in the same spot all day — greeted his father, a huge smile plastered across his face.

"I envision a time," Brian says, a hint of tears in his eyes, "where that happens again."

Back to Top

Search »