, LITTLETON, Apr 21 – Survivors of the Columbine High School massacre led solemn remembrances on the 10th anniversary of the tragedy that left 13 people dead and 23 others injured.
Under brilliant blue skies, around 1,200 people gathered in this Denver suburb to reflect on the horrific events of April 20, 1999, when teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a bloody rampage through their high school.
Thirteen white doves — one for each of the victims — were released following a sombre outdoor ceremony at a park just a short distance from the scene of one of the most traumatic school shootings in US history.
Columbine’s principal, Frank DeAngelis, who has vowed to remain in the job until every student who was in kindergarten in 1999 has graduated, said students on campus during the attack had been robbed of their childhood.
"You were forced to grow up far too quickly. I wish I could wipe away the tears you shed," DeAngelis told the crowd.
Val Schnurr, who was shot in the attack, said while the events of 1999 remained vivid, she refused consider herself a victim.
"As a survivor, there are days it feels like it happened yesterday," Schnurr told the crowd. "I was blessed with a second chance at life. We are not victims we are survivors."
Earlier, a day of reflection got underway on the steps of Colorado’s state Capitol in downtown Denver, where relatives of victims and survivors gathered as lawmakers passed a resolution in honour of the victims.
A single bell rang after every name as a roll-call of the Columbine victims was read out. At the same time a circle of 13 volunteers laid down on the ground in front of the Capitol.
As it has done on every April 20 since the massacre, Columbine High School was closed Monday.
Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, who on Friday ordered flags on all public buildings across the state to fly at half-mast, said the massacre "will continue to live in our memories."
"People to this day remember exactly where they were when they first heard about the tragedy unfolding in Jefferson County," Ritter said.
The killings of 12 students and their teacher marked a "tremendous loss of innocence in America, and their memories must not be forgotten" he added.
Highlighting the sensitivities surrounding the anniversary, television mogul Oprah Winfrey on Monday cancelled an edition of her talk show that had been due to spotlight the shooting, saying the program focused too much on the killers.
"Today, hold a thought for the Columbine community. This is a hard day for them," Winfrey said.
While Columbine became a catalyst for a national debate about gun control in the United States, where the right to possess firearms is enshrined in the constitution, attempts to restrict weapons have largely fizzled.
The administration of former President George W. Bush did not renew a 10-year moratorium on the sale of assault rifles that expired in 2004.
President Barack Obama’s administration has said it plans to renew the ban, a pledge that appears to have caused soaring sales of firearms since last year’s election.
In several mass shootings since Columbine, most notably the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre that left 32 people dead, guns involved were obtained legally.
But recent polls suggest that support for stricter laws on gun control is at an all-time low, with a CNN survey showing just 39 percent in favour of more restrictions compared to 54 percent eight years ago.