Former Columbine High School principal talks healing after trauma during Chippewa Valley visit

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CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) -- A man who experienced first-hand the devastation a mass shooting can have on a community was in the Chippewa Valley to share his story.
Frank DeAngelis was the principal at Columbine High School in 1999 when two students opened fire inside the school, killing more than a dozen people and hurting more than 20 people before turning the guns on themselves.

Photo courtesy: Columbine Wiki/MGN

Tuesday, DeAngelis spoke in Chippewa Falls about the experience and shared insight about what to do in a world where mass shootings have become all too common.

20 years after Columbine, DeAngelis is sharing the lessons he learned to help communities understand how to move forward after tragedy. "For us there was no blueprint. A lot of it was trial and error," he said.

DeAngelis spoke at community events Tuesday organized through the Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District, including a Youth Mental Health Summit and personal presentation at Chippewa Falls High School.

In the wake of recent mass shootings across the U.S. and tragic loss within our local community, school officials say this is an important visit. "He is a survivor and I think there’s a lot the community can learn from hearing his story," said Andrea Smith, Director at the Cardinal Community Learning Center for Chippewa Falls Schools.

DeAngelis shared what he learned through the aftermath of Columbine, including how the experience impacted his personal life and the life of his students. He also spoke about communities coming together in crisis. I’m called upon after shootings in churches or just recently what happened in El Paso and Dayton just talking about that recovery period and not that I’m an expert but if I state I know what you're feeling …how do you help a community heal?" he said.

DeAngelis says the Columbine tragedy changed America. "The only drills we did prior to Columbine were fire drills and now we are from the early age on we're doing active shooter drills," he said.

DeAngelis retired from Columbine in 2014. He says it's now his priority to help communities dealing with tragedy cope and help communities like ours focus on prevention.