Frank DeAngelis was the principal of Columbine High School at the time of the massacre. He was only in his third year as principal when it happened.


DeAngelis started his teaching career in 1979 at Columbine High School. He was a social-studies teacher and a coach. The north Denver-native became principal in 1996-97, and he was at Columbine on April 20, 1999 when 12 students and one teacher were killed.

"I saw a community come together to rebuild," DeAngelis said. "I saw a community come together that was more passionate and caring and taking care of each other."

But DeAngelis says Columbine is so much more than tragedy; it's a family. He treats his students that way, delivering personal messages to them. One is an annual tradition in which he delivers a speech entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," pushing students to engage in a discussion over whether it is right to talk about religion in schools.

He says he's going to greatly miss the students, some of whom affectionately refer to him as "Papa De." That's the name he would always use in his annual pre-end-of-school assembly. He calls it Papa De's Life Lessons. This school year, the lesson was about taking bold steps and facing fears.

DeAngelis faced his own fear of heights by "flying" over the school assembly. He promised himself, at the end of his career that he would fly over his last assembly. It's a fitting way to end his 18 years as principal.

On the final day of classes, DeAngelis arrived at the school at 5:15 a.m. to give him quiet moments before the day began.

"I just needed that time in the building because I knew once teachers started arriving that I would have no time to myself," DeAngelis said. "I needed the time to reflect and it was good."

When DeAngelis announced plans to retire at the end of this school year, 9NEWS launched a project to follow DeAngelis from the first day of school this year through the last. The project is called "Rebel with a Cause."

DeAngelis will still be around. He will work part time as a school-safety consultant for the Jefferson County School District.

He hopes that he left a legacy where all Columbine students feel like they are a part of a family.

"I was hoping that when they walk out of here, they realize you treat people the way you want to be treated," DeAngelis said.

Columbine High School Massacre

On the day of the massacre, Principal DeAngelis was in his office when he began to hear kids screaming. Instead of looking outside, he began to talk to staff and faculty to warn students in all classrooms of the danger that occurred outside. When it became apparent that there were two kids carrying guns, DeAngelis checked on a gym class to make sure no one was hurt.

Then he went up the stairs in an attempt to run away from the gun men. He went through several hallways until he saw Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold pointing their shotguns in his direction. Principal DeAngelis at that moment felt like it was his time. According to the Denver Post:

And then suddenly, he [DeAngelis] stared down a hallway at a kid pointing a shotgun in his direction. DeAngelis thought he was about to die as shots echoed and glass shattered behind him. He believes he lived because, at that moment, the gunman chose to pursue teacher Dave Sanders up an adjacent stairway and fire the shots that killed him. That, too, binds DeAngelis to this place. "There's survivor's guilt on my part that I'll take to my grave," he says.

After the massacre ended, DeAngelis began to direct students to go to Leawood Elementary School where students would meet with their parents.

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