A series of commemorative events to mark the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting concluded Saturday with a ceremony paying tribute to the victims and highlighting the ongoing strength of the suburban Denver community.
Hundreds of residents sat in chairs or on the grass during the two-hour program in which several speakers reflected on how their lives had changed.
Among those addressing the crowd were survivors of the massacre, former staffers of the school and family members of the 12 students and one teacher who were shot to death by a pair of trench-coat-clad students carrying handguns, shotguns, pipe bombs and extra ammunition.
Many of the speakers Saturday emphasized the spirit of human resilience and the sense of hope that has prevailed since the tragedy.
Sean Graves, who was a 15-year-old freshman at the time, held back tears as he recalled the moment he was struck by six bullets.
The first-time father said he was filled with pride that he graduated from Columbine High School, and upbeat about the future.
“Because of you, I’m up here today,” he told the crowd.
“We showed people that we can overcome evil and we can love one another and we can become a family.”
A recorded video message from former President Clinton was also played during the ceremony.
“You’ve shown America and the world what true community looks like and have reminded us that the power of love and hope is far greater than the force of darkness and division and hatred,” Clinton said.
The memorial Saturday took place in Littleton, Colo., a Denver suburb that’s home to more than 47,000 people.
For three consecutive days, somber memorials and vigils marked the anniversary of the school massacre, the largest at the time, but one that has been followed by scores of mass shootings at sites including other schools, nightclubs, a Pittsburgh synagogue and an outdoor concert venue in Las Vegas.
The anniversary events were held against a backdrop of heightened alert after an 18-year-old woman from Florida who authorities say was obsessed with the Columbine shooting threatened violence ahead of the 20th anniversary.
A manhunt for the young woman ensued. Authorities found her dead Tuesday from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The first commemoration took place Thursday evening at Waterstone Community Church, where survivors, families and community members listened to speakers including Frank DeAngelis, principal of the high school at the time of the shooting.
On Friday, hundreds gathered for a vigil at the Columbine Memorial in Clement Park.
Throughout the evening, community members placed roses and small candles on stones engraved with the names of the victims. Others donned shirts with messages of hope.
“You’re a Columbine Rebel for life and no one can ever take that away from you,” one woman’s shirt read.
Follow me on Twitter @melissaetehad