— by Jim Fraenkel and Shari Scorca
MTV News has visited Columbine High School on two occasions: once, in the days that followed the horrific shootings of April 20, 1999; and again, a few weeks ago, as we prepared our program looking back at those events.
Both then and now, we were struck by the ordinariness of the town, which has been so violently transformed by extraordinary circumstances. And indeed, had it not been for the actions of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, few outside of the Denver area would have much reason to know about Littleton, Colorado, a suburban town of upper-middle-class homogeneity where the foothills of the Rocky Mountains meet unremarkable strip malls.
On that day, when Harris and Klebold emerged from behind a small hill with guns blazing, Richard Castaldo was eating lunch on the school's lawn with Rachel Scott. Scott was killed instantly, one of 13 people to be murdered in the attack. Castaldo was gravely wounded — he was shot at least six times, possibly nine — but survived. Now 22, he is paralyzed from the chest down.
We spoke with Richard, who was later featured in Michael Moore's documentary "Bowling for Columbine," as the fifth anniversary of the shootings approached. Quiet and shy, Richard says more with his eyes and prolonged silences than he does with words. There seems little about him that would inspire the hatred and violence that were unleashed upon him and others that day five years ago. Many people harbor resentment from things that happened during high school, but most of us struggle to comprehend how those two people — two people Richard didn't even really know — could harbor so much hatred.
In a series of MTV News packages, we take a look at how the incident affected culture, students at the school today, and — in the following interview — one of the survivors.
We would like to thank everyone we met in Columbine: from the people who shared their stories and thoughts with us, to those who asked us to please leave them alone and let the people of Littleton get on with their lives. We hope you find our program worthwhile.
Gideon Yago: I guess the first question is, How's school?
Richard Castaldo: It's going all right.
Yago: What are you studying?
Yago: When did you move out of your parents' house?
Castaldo: About nine months ago.
Yago: What have you been doing that's exciting?
Castaldo: I joined a band about four months ago, so that's cool. It's like hard rock, sort of semi-grungeish, you could say. [I play] bass.
Yago: The majority of the questions that I have for you are from the footage that we saw five years ago. Are you still with that girl, Heather? [Heather Cross, Castaldo's girlfriend at the time.]
Yago: What happened?
Castaldo: I don't know. We drifted apart, I guess. Just normal high school sh--.
Yago: Tell me what graduation was like for you.
Castaldo: It was pretty good, it was good just to kind of get high school behind me. [It] kind of goes on too long after a while.
Yago: What goes on to long about it?
Castaldo: I don't know, it just gets old.
Yago: Do you still keep in touch with a lot of people from high school?
Castaldo: Yeah, I keep in touch with a few people.
Yago: Have a lot of people left town, or does mostly everybody stick around?
Castaldo: A lot of people I know are still in town, or at least in the state, maybe going to [college] or something.
Yago: Tell me a little bit about the kinds of therapy that you've had to do over the last five years.
Castaldo: I haven't really done a whole lot since I got out of the hospital. I was going to a hand therapist for a while. My left arm has nerve damage, so it took a while to get back to normal. Well, it's almost back to normal now. The extension of my fingers was kind of messed up, this one finger's still not completely normal, actually. It doesn't go completely straight.
Yago: How has the recovery been?
Castaldo: Well, I guess [I'm] probably about as recovered as I'm going to get, unless research gets so far that [it can] can cure spinal cord [injuries], which is what I've got. But I don't really think it'll come back on its own. I don't know, there's like a 5 percent chance of something like that.
Yago: Are you hopeful?
Castaldo: Ummm, yeah, I'm hopeful. I know a lot of doctors are working on it so that they can cure it one day.
Yago: How has your life changed in the last five years?
Castaldo: I don't know if much has changed, except that it just takes two or three times longer to do everything. Getting in a car takes — well it doesn't take that much longer, but it kind of gets on my nerves. And just simple things.
Yago: Do you get used to it, or....
Castaldo: Well, as used to it as I'm going to get.
Yago: Tell me a little bit about Peace Jam.
Castaldo: Basically, one of my friends started this organization. I think '96 was the first one, or one of the first ones, and I went to that [with] a youth group. The Dali Lama was there. I met him, which was pretty cool. He was a peaceful guy.
Yago: What does the organization do?
Castaldo: Basically, it gets Nobel Peace Prize winners to talk to high school-age kids about their experiences and try to inspire them to do things for the community.
Yago: Did you get inspired to do good things for your community?
Castaldo: Yeah, I helped [collect] school supplies for East Timor. One of the prize winners came to visit me [when I was] in the hospital, because he was in town for a Peace Jam conference. I thought that was pretty nice of him, to take time out to come and visit me. And a couple of years later, I heard about [the violence in] East Timor, where Indonesia just kind of went in and tore everything up pretty bad, so I thought it would be good to return the favor, I guess.
||Photo: MTV News
The Columbine Tragedy And Pop Culture
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