Touching way killed Columbine teacher remembered


It was one of the first mass school shootings to shock the world.

The Columbine killings 25 years ago tomorrow resulted in the deaths of 13 children aged 14 to 18 before the two killer pupils, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, took their own lives.

Now the daughter of one of the heroes who saved hundreds of students at the US high school has spoken out.

Computer and business teacher Dave Sanders, 47, was the 15th victim, fatally shot after guiding children away from Harris and Klebold during the 15-minute killing spree, The Sun reported.

Since then, survivors have shown their love for him by visiting his daughter, Coni, and introducing her to their own children — who would not have been born had the two killers’ plan to murder hundreds of students not been thwarted.

Speaking to The Sun, Coni, 50, reveals: “I didn’t realise it until I was at the memorial a few years ago and these people walked up to me and handed me their baby. Like, ‘Why am I holding your baby? I don’t know who you are’. And they said, ‘Can we have a picture?’.

‘His influence went far beyond the classroom’

“I’m thinking, ‘I have no idea what’s going on right now’. And they said, ‘This baby exists because of your dad’, and I almost dropped the baby.

“But you know, it was then that I really started thinking — generations from now, they’ll never know they exist because of what he did.

“He was a teacher for 24 years and his influence went far beyond the walls of the classroom and the bounds of the playing fields that he coached in. He has left a mark on the world.”

The softball coach wasn’t even supposed to be in school when Harris, 18, and Klebold, 17, started their deadly assault.

Coni reveals: “It was my grandmother’s birthday. He was supposed to go to lunch with my mum, my aunt and my grandmother.”

Instead, before lunch the killers turned up at school with a semiautomatic pistol, a pump-action shotgun and other weapons hidden beneath their trench coats.

A pipe bomb they threw into the car park and huge explosives placed in the cafeteria all failed to detonate.

Undeterred, the pair started firing at pupils, first killing 17-year-old Rachel Scott, who had been having lunch with her friend Richard Castaldo on the grass by one of the entrances to the school.

Dave and two janitors told students to leave the dining area and began to secure as much of the school as possible. But as the teacher walked down the hallway giving instructions, Harris fired bullets into the father-of-four’s head, neck and torso.

From there the shooters headed to the library, where most of the pupils were killed.

Just after noon, with armed police teams outside the school, Harris and Klebold took their own lives.

Injured Dave was in a classroom, bleeding heavily from his wounds.

As he lay there, he proudly showed students pictures of his family that he kept in his wallet.

Realising the situation was desperate, teachers and pupils placed a sign in the window telling those outside someone was “bleeding to death”.

But the police feared it was a trick by the shooters and it wasn’t until 3pm that a paramedic reached Dave. By that time he was dead.

Dave, who coached girls’ basketball and softball teams, wanted to give a final message to his four daughters.

Coni says: “His last words were, ‘Tell my girls I love them’.

“That could have meant so many things. It could have meant his athletes. It could have been my mum and my sisters.”

There was a lot of anger within the community about the slow response of the police — but Coni doubts her father would have wished to live with the injuries he had sustained.

She says: “After talking to the coroner, he was not going to live a good life based on his injuries.

“One went in through his shoulder and out through his mouth. He would not have lived a life coaching and teaching.

‘Your brain is just stuck like it was yesterday’

“So I almost feel like it was the right thing to happen, that if he survived it would not have been a survival that would have been good for him.”

In the immediate aftermath, Coni admits she felt annoyed that her father had put himself in harm’s way.

She says: “We had some anger towards him, like, ‘How could you do that — run towards danger?’. Over the years we’ve come to determine that he was in the right place at the right time.”

That’s because he saved so many young people — but his absence still weighs heavily on the family.

Coni, who works as a therapist, reveals: “It’s interesting to think about the past 25 years because it feels like just yesterday.

“There’s something we refer to as trauma time, where you can remember, at this minute, what I was doing the last time that I saw him. Your brain is just stuck in that like it was yesterday.

“The last time I saw him he told me that he loved me, and to be nice to my sister.

“He hugged me and I think I looked back at that as it was so bizarre. I remember thinking at the time, ‘Wow, that was a hug’. Because it was always kind of the coach’s pat.”

The senseless slayings shocked the world, with countless books and documentaries made in an attempt to understand the killers.

Many issues have been blamed, from the shoot-’em-up video games the pair played to the bullying they reportedly experienced.

None of the theories has done anything to stem the tide of fatalities in the United States.

So far in 2024 alone more than 200 people have been killed in mass shootings, while 4,994 in total have died from gun violence — 355 of them children or teens.

Earlier this month the Colorado House of Representatives passed a bill to ban the sale or transfer of assault weapons — although there are doubts it will pass through the state’s Senate.

Banning the kind of automatic weapons wielded by Harris and Klebold has so far been prevented by the US constitution right to bear arms.

But it was illegal to sell weapons to underage students. Their friend Mark Manes, who was 22 at the time and provided much of the arsenal, was sentenced to nine years in prison.

In 2022, US President Joe Biden increased restrictions on gun ownership by bringing in tougher background checks on anyone aged under 21 wishing to buy a gun.

Coni is doing her bit to stem the tide of hate and misery that has gripped America for so long. She studied psychology and spent seven years working in a mental health hospital on low pay before being able to dedicate herself to helping disaffected young people.

Inspired by her father, she now works in the same justice system “diversion program” Harris and Klebold had been placed on.

Prior to the attack, the pair had both been arrested for breaking into a van and were given anger management sessions as part of the scheme.

Coni, who lives near Columbine High School, reveals: “I’ve even had some clients come in and said, ‘Man, if I had a gun, I would have shot up my school’.

“There’s just so much pain and grief in adolescence. So this is how I carry on Dad’s legacy.”

This story originally appeared on The Sun and reproduced with permission