20 years later: Minnesota man recalls Columbine shooting response

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On the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, many are gathering in Colorado in remembrance of the tragedy.

Among them is Rick Kaufman, who now works at Bloomington Public Schools. Twenty years ago, he worked in the communications department at the Colorado school district, which included Columbine High School.

The chaos of the day is clear in Kaufman’s memory.

“I was at the right place, wrong time or wrong place, right time," he said. "There’s a higher being that can figure that out for me."

After a report of a shooting, he and other district staff arrived at Columbine High School. Immediately, he came face-to-face with injured students. 

“A young man that had been shot seven times was being dragged by two individuals,” Kaufman recalled.

Kaufman’s background as a paramedic kicked in and he began helping triage victims.

“I immediately check his vitals - no pulse. I scanned, tried to stop some of the bleeding and we got him to a rescue vehicle,” he said.

Then, another student came, this time shot in the shoulder.

“I remember grabbing her and she let out this terrible scream that has always stuck with me,” he said. “And what I did not know what I had grabbed the shoulder that had taken the shot.”

Amazingly, all the injured students he helped survived that day. However, the loss of 12 students and teacher weighed heavily. In the days that followed, he served as a liaison for media and the victims’ families.

“I made a promise to the victims’ families on that day that whatever we could do to protect kids to improve school safety, security, to prevent these things from happening then those children whose souls were lost would not have been in vain,” said Kaufman.

The district’s prevention strategies were tested this week. Just days before the anniversary, schools throughout Colorado closed for a possible threat. A woman who officials said was “infatuated” with the Columbine tragedy traveled to Colorado and bought a gun. She was later found dead.

“I do hope and pray that we get to a day that we no longer have to deal with these things and that we can do more on the front end,” said Kaufman.

This weekend, Kaufman is returning to the Columbine community where he’ll be among survivors and former co-workers. He says he hasn’t seen many of them in about a decade, some since the very day of the shooting. The healing process is ongoing.

“All of the students and staff in that school were victims because of what they endured, what they saw, what they heard, what they experienced and they’ll carry that for the rest of their lives,” said Kaufman.