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Monday, August 16, 1999 Published at 17:09 GMT 18:09 UK

World: Americas

Massacre school students return

Students and their families attended the re-opening

Students at the American school devastated by a killing spree less than four months ago have returned to the scene of the massacre for the first time, amid increased security.

Principal Frank DeAngelis told the cheering crowd: "I have been looking forward to this day for a long time."

Columbine High School in Colorado closed after students Eric Harris, 18, and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold killed 12 of their classmates and a teacher, before shooting themselves.

The BBC's Tom Carver: "Americans feel caught up in something of an epidemic"
Nearly 2,000 pupils returned on Monday, taking part in a "take back the school" rally, before going inside the renovated building.

Many of them wore T-shirts with the slogan: "We are Columbine".

'We have prevailed'

[ image: Many students wore T-shirts saying:
Many students wore T-shirts saying: "We are Columbine"
The head of the student body, Mike Sheehan, told the rally: "Although we were surrounded by terror and destruction, we still stood strong.

"We have prevailed. We have overcome. Each of us is the spirit of Columbine."

The flag on the school's flagpole, which had flown at half mast since the shooting, was raised once again to mark the start of the new school year.

Father remembers

Relatives of murdered pupils also attended the gathering.

"I'm glad to see they're able to return," said Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel, 15, was among those who died.

"I'm glad to see this kind of community support for moving on ... healing."

Julie Lesback, mother of three daughters at Columbine, said they were excited to return to school, but added she worried about how they might cope with the emotions involved in returning to the scene of the tragedy.

"It's hard going back into that cafeteria," she said.

Covering the traces

School authorities have spent about $1m on erasing evidence of the massacre.

Bullet and shrapnel holes have been plastered and painted over while a new wall now blocks the entrance to the second-floor library where most of the victims died.

'No fortress'

As part of increased security measures, all students at the school must now wear identification badges while 16 new security cameras have been installed.

But there has been a reluctance to introduce more drastic security measures.

Tom Carver on the after-effects of the shooting that shocked America
School district spokesman Rick Kaufman said: "We heard shortly after the tragedy and from lots of people - students, staff, parents - that they didn't want their school to be turned into a fortress."

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  • Two mental health counsellors are joining the regular staff of six counsellors at the school, while a "safe room" has also been set up for students who need special attention during the first week of class.

    [ image: Many tributes were paid to the dead]
    Many tributes were paid to the dead
    Student Lindsey Neam said: "It's good to make changes. I think it will make it easier for kids who saw things.

    "But for others it might make it harder, because kids just want things to be the same. They want to get back to normal."

    Tribute record sells thousands

    On Saturday night, Stephen and Jon Cohen, members of the Bible club at the school, performed at a Christian inspirational rally attended by 2,000 people.

    The Cohens' tribute song to the murdered students, "Columbine Friend of Mine," has sold 40,000 records.

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