Thirteen years after the tragedy, a father whose son was killed in the Columbine High School shootings on April 20, 1999, has written a book about his struggle to come to terms with grief and rise above the horrible events that shattered his family's life.
"Walking in Daniel's Shoes," by Tom Mauser, is a factual and sometimes emotional account by a parent of what happens to a family when a child is murdered.
Published in June, just before the Aurora movie theater shootings, the book will resonate with those who lost family members in another act of senseless gun violence.
Mauser will read from the book and answer questions at the Highlands Ranch Tattered Cover on Sept. 24. The book is available on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites and also is available in e-book format on Nook and Kindle. He wrote the book in his spare time over the last three years and produced it with the help of professional editors.
Mauser still grieves over the loss of his 15-year-old son, Daniel, who was killed by shooter Eric Harris in the library at Columbine High along with nine other young people in a seven-minute shooting spree. Harris and Dylan Klebold together killed 13 people that day and injured 21.
Since then, Mauser, 60, has dedicated his life to honoring the memory of his son and fighting for stricter control over guns. He is nationally known for his efforts to close Colorado's gun-show loophole, which was accomplished in November 2000 by a statewide vote in favor of Amendment 22.
In light of the recent shootings at the Aurora movie theater and the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, there is more to be done, Mauser said.
"We have to ask ourselves if we are OK with military weapons and (ammunition) magazines in the hands of civilians. … I know there is a lot of apprehension about gun control, but are we just going to go on this way?" Mauser told the Columbine Courier.
Shortly after the Columbine massacre, Mauser took a leave of absence from his job and agreed to become a full-time paid lobbyist for SAFE, or Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic, which was formed by Colorado activists Arnie Grossman and John Head to lobby the state legislature for stronger gun controls.
It was something of a stretch for Mauser, who was not a professional advocate and candidly admits he didn't have a clue what a lobbyist did, but he eventually rose to the challenge. The fight for gun control was one of the ways that Mauser coped with grief.
"I was a poor candidate for dealing effectively with deep grief," Mauser writes. "Prior to April 20 I had lived a good life and never faced terrible adversity. I had not endured major health, financial or job crises. I lost virtually no one close to me in a tragic death, so I had rarely experienced deep grief."
But advocacy seemed to be a positive direction. "I was able at times to find a way to channel some of my grief. But there also was agony. I was on a sickening roller-coaster ride. It wasn't uncommon to take two encouraging steps forward and one giant step backward."
Mauser found solace in big and little things, like wearing Daniel's Reeboks, which were the same size as his father's. Mauser wore them occasionally around the house, then loaned them to an organization that displayed shoes on the steps of the Capitol in 2000 as part of the Silent March protest against gun violence. The shoes represented the thousands of children and youths who were killed with guns in one year. Later he obtained the Vans tennis shoes that Daniel was wearing when he died.
Mauser also was comforted by developing a memorial website, danielmauser.com, and visiting a library in Guatemala that had been built with funds raised in Daniel's name.
But the thing that probably brought the most healing was adopting a daughter, Madeline, from China. Tom was 47 and had doubts but forged ahead at the behest of his wife, Linda.
"I think that if there was any single thing, it was probably the adoption. It was in part to honor Daniel, but it was also very life reaffirming. We lost a life, but here was another life that we could nurture. This was a life we could focus on," Mauser said.
Mauser and his wife visited China and adopted a 10-month-old girl. Mauser may be 60 now, but he feels a lot younger.
"It's true that a younger child makes you feel younger. Not that I'm listening to the current music. But it feels kind of rejuvenating in a way."
The bottom line is, you never really get over it, Mauser said. "There is no getting over it. You learn to deal with it, and you get a little better every day."
In an effort to understand what happened, Mauser also contacted and met with the parents of Harris and Klebold, something he had avoided for seven years.
"I didn't want to deal with it at all. I didn't want to know what they looked like. Then I came to the conclusion, 'How can I not?' " he said.
Something about meeting the parents face to face was one thing that helped bring the book to a conclusion. He still doesn't entirely forgive the parents for not recognizing how troubled their children were. But he is able to forgive them for being "all too human."
A signed copy of the book can be obtained through Daniel Mauser's memorial website at www.danielmauser.com.
Contact Vicky Gits at email@example.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.