LITTLETON, Colo. – Lauren Townsend’s parents recently were invited to attend the university graduation of a student who had received a scholarship in their daughter’s name.
“Through tears we’re going: ‘This could be Lauren. This could just so be Lauren,’ and here we were, being able to help her try to get through college,” said Dawn Anna.
Her daughter was one of 12 students killed at Columbine High School 10 years ago Monday.
She was posthumously named a valedictorian of the class of 1999.
Anna, her husband, Bruce Beck and family of slain teacher Dave Sanders gathered at Columbine High’s HOPE Library Saturday to share memories of their loved ones. The library replaced the one in which students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot most of their victims.
Lauren Townsend worked at a no-kill animal shelter and hoped to become a wildlife biologist. Her parents have dedicated a good portion of their time since her death to the Lauren Townsend Memorial Wildlife/Scholarship Fund, which supports organizations that work with wildlife. It began with $170,000 sent with cards and letters by people around the world after the shootings.
The couple said they’re encouraged by several developments since Columbine: programs to prevent bullying and violence in school, school safety plans, changes in police tactics. Beck said it’s impossible to say how many lives have been saved by changes made after Columbine.
“We know Lauren well enough that she would have been at the front of the line if she knew that her life would help change hundreds upon thousands upon millions of others,” Beck said.
The couple routinely play Powerball using lucky numbers they found in Townsend’s diary. If they win, proceeds will go to the fund.
For Sanders’ family, Monday’s anniversary marks a time to move on.
“The memorial has been built, the library has been built and those were such amazing things we wanted to work on that I think, at this point, 10 years later, we’re ready to put the public piece of Columbine behind us,” said stepdaughter Coni Sanders.
Added stepdaughter Cindy Thirouin: “It’s important to me to let the news story of the Columbine shootings rest in peace with our loved ones that we lost.”
Sanders, who coached girls’ softball, volleyball, cross-country, track and basketball, was a devoted father and grandfather. His 15-year-old granddaughter and Thirouin’s daughter, Tiffany, is a freshman at the school.
“She’s not afraid to come here. It’s grandpa’s school,” said Thirouin.
Sanders was hailed as a hero for shepherding students out of the cafeteria and away from the gunmen. He was shot in a hallway as he fled the gunmen.
His daughters take solace in his last words, spoken to SWAT Officer Grant Whitus.
“Are all the kids out?” Coni Sanders quoted her dad saying.
Whitus answered: “Yes.”
“Tell my girls I love them.”
His final words relieved the “selfish anger” Coni Sanders said she felt knowing she had lost her father because he chose to risk his life protecting his students.
“It helped ease some of the pain – that he really did do an amazing thing and that he was thinking about us,” she said.
About two years after Sanders’ death, Coni Sanders visited the science classroom closet where he died. There was a biology class skeleton there – almost as if her dad, a prankster, would have put it there.
“I started laughing so hard,” she said.
“I’m just, isn’t this the way that dad would have wanted it?”
On the Net:
Lauren Townsend Memorial Wildlife/Scholarship Fund: www.denverfoundation.org/page20729.cfm