'If you don’t get a tear in your eye, there’s something wrong with you'

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Thousands remember victims of school violence at Emily's Parade

By Gabrielle Porter

Crowds of leather-clad bikers held brightly colored balloons as they waited in the parking lot at Columbine High School on Sunday morning.
Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis told the crowd that every balloon represented a person who had lost their life to school violence.

“We’re hoping that we don’t have to keep adding balloons,” said DeAngelis, who has been principal at Columbine since before the 1999 shootings at the school killed 12 students and a teacher. “Each year we do this, we hope that we will not have to add people to this club we call tragedy.”
Thousands of bikers rode from Columbine High to Platte Canyon High on Sunday in the seventh annual Emily’s Parade. The 45-mile parade commemorates the life of Emily Keyes, who was killed by a gunman at Platte Canyon High School on Sept. 27, 2006.
The ceremony ended as the crowd of thousands released their pink, white, blue, yellow, green and red balloons as one as the strains of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole filled the air — Emily’s favorite song.
The end of the gentle melody marked the beginning of a not-so-gentle sound: rows upon rows of motorcycles heading out onto the road and to Platte Canyon High to eat, drink, listen to music and enjoy the day.
John-Michael Keyes, Emily's father, said the final count on how many bikes participated will be available later this week.
The event raises money for the I Love U Guys Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to making schools safer that is led by John-Michael Keyes.
“We don’t choose tragedy, but we can choose our response,” Keyes said at the opening ceremony. “Without this event, what we’re doing … couldn’t happen.”
Westminster resident T.J., who declined to give his name, has come to the parade every year since 2006. He said that besides being a healing experience for those involved, the parade highlights the special relationship between the two schools — both marked by violence. Even though more than 13 years have passed since the Columbine shootings, for some the grief may still be fresh, he said.
“I’m glad they kind of do it between the two,” T.J. said while waiting for the first motorcycles to arrive at Platte Canyon. “There’s people at Columbine who are going through the same thing.”
Jim Rinker has ridden in all seven parades with his granddaughter, Jazmyne Mazotti. Jazmyne was 2 the first year; at 10, she still loves making the ride.
“We don’t miss this one for anything,” Rinker said, adding that each year the parade has grown “bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Tommy Knight has been riding in the parade since the second year in 2007. The London, England, native, who lives in Colorado Springs, first heard about the event on the radio.
“I felt so bad about the little girl,” he said. “We decided to support (the event). … We mustn’t forget why we’re here. We’re here to support Emily Keyes.”
Knight waited for the parade to begin with the throngs of bikers at Columbine High. He said the annual balloon release still affects him the same way it did the first year he rode.
“I’ve done two and a half wars, OK? But even I get a tear in my eye,” he said. “I don’t care who you are; when they let them balloons go, I tell you what. … If you don’t get a tear in your eye, there’s something wrong with you.”

Contact Gaby Zastrocky at gabrielle@evergreenco.com or follow at Twitter.com/gabriellereport. Check www.HighTimberTimes.com for updates.