Columbine Victim Speaks (repost)

The Metropolitan Vol 26 Issue 11 ~ September 18, 2003

by Elena BrownThe metropolitan

Richard Castaldo describes how he was paralyzed in April 20, 1999 Columbine shootings. The Metro sophomore is currently pursuing a business degree.

He’ll be 22 this week. Celebrating a birthday — according to the medical odds — that should not have been. With eight gunshot wounds, he made it through alive.

But something is missing. There’s a void.

“They keep saying this all happened for a purpose,” he said tapping on the legs he can’t feel anymore, “but I’m still waiting for that purpose.”

Wounds meant to kill are now plainly visible on Richard Castaldo.

The Metro sophomore is paralyzed from the chest down, and as he wheels around the Auraria campus, he ponders on the vote scheduled for Sept. 17, a day before his birthday.

The Auraria Board will vote on whether to allow concealed weapons — including the 9mm pistol, they type of gun he was shot with — on campus. The new Colorado gun law allows people with a certified handgun or concealed weapons permit to carry their registered weapon anywhere in the state, including school campuses.

The basic qualifications for the permit include a minimum age requirement of 21, a $152.50 processing fee and a background check. Over 60 percent of Metro’s more than 20,000 student population, including Castaldo, meet the basic qualifications to get the permit.

“I don’t think I need a gun,” he said.

Richard Castaldo is a Columbine survivor and the whole issue makes him a little bit uneasy. He didn’t exactly expect to survive one of the deadliest school shootings in history only to enroll into a college that allows concealed weapons.

“It would be kinda freaky. I don’t know if I’d stop going here; it’s hard to say, but I can’t think of a reason why you would need a gun on campus,” he said.

Castaldo has no qualms about finding an officer and reporting a weapon, even if the Auraria Board upholds the Colorado law. “Not reporting it is just not something worth taking a chance on,” he said.

Chief of Police Heather Coogan agrees. “If someone is on campus with a gun, we want to know about it. Do not approach the person; call us.”

There has already been an arrest on campus of a CCD student who had an outstanding warrant and was carrying a weapon.

Castaldo remembers the incident at Columbine and that there was no time to react. There was a gun, and in an instant he was on the ground with 9mm bullet holes in his arm, chest, back and abdomen. He was one of the first people shot and the last Columbine survivor to leave the hospital.

“(After all of that) I still don’t think I need my own gun,” Castaldo said.

Castaldo took a semester off after the April 1999 shooting, but later went on to graduate from Columbine High School. Castaldo was only a junior when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold held an entire school under siege and had the attention of the world as they began shooting people. Ultimately, they would kill 12 students and one teacher before turning the guns on themselves.

Castaldo says most people ask the usual things: Did he know them? Where were you? Why did they do it?

“And this gets kinda old,” he says, “Answering that stuff is not fun to do.”

But, he answers them anyway: Castaldo vaguely knew Harris and Klebold. He was just beginning lunch with Rachael Scott when they were shot. She died. And he has no idea why they did what they did.

“I guess they were pissed off, but I don’t know. I didn’t have any beef with them. I just got in their way, I guess,” he said.

Castaldo became a favorite of the Denver press in the months after Columbine. Being in the hospital for four months, undergoing seven surgeries and physical therapy allowed him and his family to be under a constant bombardment of interview requests from local and national media, including filmmaker Michael Moore.

Castaldo and Mark Taylor, another Columbine student, were enlisted by Moore for his Oscar-winning documentary, “Bowling for Columbine.”

It had been reported that Harris and Klebold bought some of their bullets from a local K-Mart.

At the time, K-Mart did not restrict the amount of ammunition a person could buy.

The only restriction was the age requirement of 18. Moore, the students and the media went to K-Mart’s headquarters to ask the retailer to stop selling handgun ammunition.

K-Mart buckled under the pressure and discontinued the sale of handgun ammunition in all of its stores.

“That was pretty surprising; we didn’t expect that,” said Castaldo, “What you see in the movie is a genuine reaction of surprise.”

“Bowling for Columbine” has recently been released on VHS and DVD and ranks in the top 20 in video rental. People are noticing Castaldo aging, he said with a flash of a smile for this victory, yet as quickly as the smile appears, it fades. “I’m proud of all that, it’s just lonely sometimes.”

The notoriety comes in a dull lull for him. Mostly, people refer to him as “That Columbine Kid,” but since the movie, “I’ve been called by my actual name.” And he’s quite drained from the pity-party people regularly throw when seeing him or hearing his story. “I just don’t know what to say when people tell me they’re sorry for me. So I just say, ‘Thanks.’ ”

But he is appreciative. And he’s thankful to the two members of Denver’s S.W.A.T team for his rescue. It was over 45 minutes from the time he was shot to the time he was rescued. “I remember laying there, wondering if anyone was coming to help,” he said. “It’s kinda weird now, but the most pain came from my back. There was a sharp rock just piercing my back and I didn’t have the strength to move.”

“Getting shot hurts,” he said. He still has one bullet left inside by the doctors. “It was too dangerous to move.”

The five-year anniversary of the Columbine tragedy is April 20, 2004, but Castaldo says he has no plans, “I don’t even have plans for my birthday (Sept. 18), let alone something seven months from now,” he said while running his hands trough his long and thick curly black hair.

Castaldo’s hands are the busiest part of him these days. He continues his love of music and plays the saxophone and keyboards, and is helping with the music for a friend’s documentary. He drives a wheelchair-ready van and lives alone near Denver University. He even got his nose pierced a few months ago, and is thinking about getting a tattoo.

Castaldo is trying to get on with his life, but the memories of Columbine do not stray too far from his mind.

He tends to drift off and return to that day when something sparks a flash of memory, like the “Bowling for Columbine” movie or another school shooting in the news. And sometimes the U.S. and Iraq conflict adds to a growing dismal view of the world. “The war is in the same pool of fucked-upness.”

Still, he’s not ready to wash his hands of humanity. He admits his view of the world is bleak, which is why he got involved with the PeaceJam origination. Long before the Columbine attacks, Castaldo was reaching out to others about the evils of violence. He recently lent his wisdom of living and surviving in such a violent world to the PeaceJam documentary by recounting how violence has affected his life. The Denver-based organization is aimed at high school students to inspire global peaceful awareness and community activity. They offer workshops on suicide prevention, non-violent tactics and communication skills with the help of Nobel Prize winners.

Castaldo once met the Dalai Lama at a PeaceJam conference.

Castaldo isn’t mad at his life; he is coming to terms with it. The life of the slight teenage boy eating lunch was forever changed. And now the wheelchair-bound boy is becoming a man. “It’s funny,” he said with a pause. ”I used to really like to bowl. Now, I’m just confused about God’s plan.”

—Elena Brown


The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: