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Columbine High School principal Frank DeAngelis is retiring, but not before fulfilling a pledge he made in the aftermath of the April 1999 massacre that thrust his school into the national spotlight: he vowed to remain at his post until kindergarteners at the time of the tragedy completed high school.

That took place in 2011.

That means DeAngelis not only led the community through a nationally televised tragedy—he watched the entire Columbine generation reach adulthood. A decade and a half later, the term "Columbine" is nationally recognized as synonymous with tragedy and alienation, but a slew of other locations of mass shootings have joined it since. Those in kindergarten at the time of the shooting are now in college; those who graduated with the class of 1999 (as perpetrators Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold would have) are in their early 30s. In the meantime, some of the survivors and victim families have turned to activism or motivational speaking programs.

Though he led the school for 18 years, DeAngelis is likely to be remembered for his actions during and in the aftermath of the shooting. He was in his office when Harris and Klebold opened fire. When he ventured in the hallway, he encountered Harris shooting out windows. He sprung into action, as the Associated Press notes:

He shepherded a group of about 20 students to safety that day, and he survived with no physical injuries. However, he has said the shootings left him with severe anxiety attacks that felt like heart attacks. He said the attack contributed to the end of his marriage of 17 years because he didn’t want to talk about what he was going through.

Here's DeAngelis's retirement letter, via FOX 31 anchor Jeremy Hubbard.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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