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Echoes of past, hope for the future

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By Doug Bell

Journalists are captivated by anniversaries, and that’s one of our biggest failings. The tendency, after an arbitrary number of years, is to find morals and endings, to tie up the loose strings of a tragedy and pronounce the community ready to move on.

But that approach simply doesn’t reflect the way a community heals or the evolving nature of life itself, and the recent observance of the 10-year anniversary of the Columbine shootings was no exception. As news crews descended on the area to redefine the event a decade after that horrific day, it became clear that the causes and effects of the Columbine tragedy are still very difficult to define.

And even more difficult to portray is the way the killings defined everything that came after.

At a breakfast last week hosted by the Second Wind Fund, the echoes from Columbine were unmistakable, but the focus was on the present — on helping teenagers of today deal with the difficulties they often face.

Second Wind, founded in 2002, is dedicated to the prevention of teen suicide, the second leading killer of teenagers in Colorado. The organization provides free counseling to young people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and who couldn’t otherwise afford treatment.

Second Wind has successfully helped more than 1,600 teens since its inception, including 80 to 90 students from Columbine area schools.

Jeff Lamontagne, founder and executive director of Second Wind, said his organization now helps an average of 500 teens a year from throughout the Denver area, usually referred by their schools.

“We receive referrals of kids who are homicidal and suicidal, and that’s obviously a preventative in terms of situations like Columbine to treat kids quickly,” Lamontagne said.

Lamontagne and a fellow member of Green Mountain Presbyterian Church reached out to Green Mountain High School after four students there committed suicide during the 2001-02 school year, and the Second Wind Fund was born. Next came several years of rapid growth with the help of local churches and businesses.

Today, the organization is making plans to expand across the country to confront a problem that is often hidden but all too prevalent.

In the days after the Columbine anniversary, Second Wind assembled a group of community members to celebrate its successes and to renew its efforts to save the lives of area teenagers. The room was filled with optimism, determination and a focus on the present — as well as certain signs of the healing that continues in our community.

On that day, remembering Columbine seemed less an act of moving on and more a community’s commitment to moving toward a better future.

Doug Bell is the editor of the Columbine Courier.