On Friday nights, Coach Sanders could usually be found in the Columbine Lounge: an ass-kicking strip-mall honky-tonk with the feel of an Allman Brothers club gig in Macon in the 1970s. All ages piled in--mostly rednecks, but blacks and Latinos mixed easily, punkers and skate rats, too. Everybody got along. Biker dudes with gleaming scalps and ponytails chatted up elderly women in floral cardigans. Most nights included an open-mike period, where you could watch an aging drunk strum "Stairway to Heaven," segue into the Gilligan's Island theme, and forget the words. The bartenders covered the pool tables with plywood sheets when the band started, converting it all into banquet space. A stack of amplifiers and a mixing board marked off the virtual stage, spotlit by aluminum-clamp lights affixed to the ceiling tile frames. A narrow strip of carpet served as the dance floor. Mostly, it was filled with fortyish women in Dorothy Hamill wedge cuts. They tried to drag their men out there but seldom got many takers. Dave Sanders was the exception. He loved to glide across the carpet. He was partial to the Electric Slide. He was something to see. The grace that propelled him down the basketball court thirty years ago had stuck with him. He played point guard. He was good. Coach Sanders outclassed most of the clientele, but he didn't think in class terms. He cared about friendliness, honest effort, and sincerity. The Lounge had those in abundance. And Dave liked to kick back and have fun. He had a hearty laugh, and got a lot of use of it at the Lounge. When Coach Sanders arrived in 1974, he personified the community. He'd grown up in Veedersburg, Indiana, a quiet rural community much like the Jefferson County he found right out of college. Twenty-five years later, it was not such a snug fit. The Lounge sat just a few blocks south of the high school, and in the early days it was brimming with faculty after school or practice. They mixed with former students and parents and siblings of the current ones. Half the town rolled through the Lounge in a given week. The newer teachers didn't approve of that behavior, and they didn't fit in at the Lounge anyway. Neither did the wave of upscale suburbanites who began flooding into Jeffco in the late 1970s, overwhelming Columbine's student body. New Columbine went for fern bars and Bennigan's, or private parties in their split-level "ranch homes" and cathedral-ceilinged McMansions. Cassie Bernall's family was New Columbine, as were the Harrises and the Klebolds. Mr. D arrived as Old, but evolved with the majority to New. Old Columbine remained, outnumbered but unfazed by the new arrivals. Many older families lived in actual ranch houses built half a century earlier on the small horse ranches occupying most of the area when the high school was constructed. Columbine High School was built in 1973 on a dirt road off a larger dirt road way out in horse country. It was named after the flower that blankets sections of the Rockies. Scraggy meadows surrounded the new building, fragrant with pine trees and horse manure. Hardly anybody lived there, but Jeffco was bracing for an influx. Court-ordered busing had spurred an avalanche of white flight out of Denver, and subdivisions were popping up all along the foothills. Jeffco officials had debated where the arrivals would cluster. They erected three temporary structures in the wilderness to accommodate the stampede. The high schools were identical hollow shells, ready for conversion to industrial use if the population failed to materialize. Columbine resembled a factory by design. Inside, mobile accordion-wall separators were rolled out to create classrooms. Sound carried from room to room, but students could overcome such minor hardships. Developers kept throwing up new subdivisions, each one pricier than the one before. Jeffco kept all three temporary schools. In 1995, just before Eric and Dylan arrived, Columbine High School underwent a major overhaul. Permanent interior walls were installed, and the old cafeteria on the east side was converted to classrooms. A huge west wing was added, doubling the size of the structure. It bore the signature new architectural feature: the curving green glass of the commons, with the new library above. By April 1999, the plain was nearly filled, all the way to the foothills. But the fiercely independent residents refused to incorporate. A new town would only impose new rules and new taxes. The 100,000 new arrivals filled one continuous suburb with no town center: no main street, no town hall, town library, or town name. No one was sure what to call it. Littleton is a quiet suburb south of Denver where the massacre did not actually occur. Although the name would grow synonymous with the tragedy, Columbine lies several miles west, across the South Platte River, in a different county with separate schools and law enforcement. The postal system slapped "Littleton" onto a vast tract of seven hundred square miles, stretching way up into the foothills. The people on the plain gravitated toward the name of the nearest high school--the hub of suburban social life. For thirty thousand people clustered around the new high school, Columbine became the name of their home. ____ Dave Sanders taught typing, keyboarding, business, and economics. He didn't find all the material particularly interesting, but it enabled him to coach. Dave coached seven different sports at Columbine. He started out with boys but found the girls needed him more. "He had this way of making everyone feel secure," a friend said. He made the kids feel good about themselves. Dave didn't yell or berate the girls, but he was stern and insistent at practice. Again. Again. He watched quietly on the sidelines, and when he spoke, they could count on analysis or inspiration. He had taken over as head coach of girls' basketball that semester--a team with twelve straight losing seasons. Before the first game, he bought them T-shirts with ONE IN A DOZEN printed on the back. They made it to the state championship tournament that spring. When someone crossed Dave Sanders, he responded with "the look": a cold, insistent stare. He used it one time on a couple of chatty girls in business class. They shut up momentarily, but went back to talking when he looked away. So he pulled up a chair right in front of them and conducted the rest of class from that spot, staring back and forth at each girl until the bell rang. Dave spent almost every night in the gym or the field house, headed back for more on the weekends, and ran summer training camps at the University of Wyoming. Dave was a practical guy. He admired efficiency, tried to do double duty by bringing his daughter to work after school. The basketball girls knew Angela by the time she was a toddler. She hung out in the gym watching Daddy drill the girls: dribbling, tip contests, face-offs... Angela brought her toys with her in a tyke-sized suitcase. By the end of practice, they would be strewn all over the bleachers and the side of the court. The girls let out a big sigh when Dave called out for Angela to start packing up. He worked them hard, and that was the signal that they were nearly done. Angela treasured those late afternoons. "I grew up at Columbine," she said. Dave was widening out into a big bear of a man, and when he hugged Angela, she felt safe. Her mom was less impressed. Kathy Sanders divorced Dave when Angela was three. Dave found a home a few blocks away, so they could stay close. Later, Angie moved in with him. It was such a happy divorce that Kathy became friends with his second wife, Linda Lou. "Kathy's such a sweetheart, and she and Dave got along so well," Linda said. "I asked her one day, 'Why did you two ever get a divorce?' And she said, 'He was never home. I was kind of like married to myself.'" Linda thrived with the arrangement. Angie was seventeen when she married Dave, and her two girls were nearly raised as well. Linda had been a single working mom for many years and was used to alone time. She grew steadily more dependent on Dave, though. She had been strong when she needed to, but she liked it better with a man to lean on. Independence had been great, but that life was over now. Linda Lou often met Dave at the Lounge after practice, and they spent the evening together there. She loved the place almost as much as Dave did. They'd met at the Lounge in 1991. They'd held their wedding reception there two years later. It felt like home. Dave felt like home to Linda. Dave was exactly what Linda had been waiting for: caring, protective, and playfully romantic. He'd proposed on a trip to Vegas. As they'd strolled over a bridge into the Excalibur casino, he'd asked to see her "divorce ring"--which she still wore on her wedding finger. She presented her hand, and he threw the ring into the moat. He asked her to marry him. She gleefully accepted. Linda and her two daughters moved in, and she and Dave finished raising the girls and Angela. Dave legally adopted Linda's younger daughter, Coni. He considered all three girls his daughters, and they all called him Dad. Dave's lanky runner's build filled out. His beard grew speckled, then streaked gray. His smile held constant. His blue eyes twinkled. He began to resemble a young Santa Claus. Otherwise, Dave remained remarkably consistent: coaching, laughing, and enjoying his grandkids, but not seeing them enough. He drove an aging Ford Escort, dressed in drab polyester slacks and plain button-down shirts. His hair dwindled, but he parted it neatly on the left. He wore great big oversized glasses with frames from another age. Each night ended with him in his easy chair, chuckling to Johnny Carson, with a tumbler of Diet Coke and Jack Daniel's in hand. When Johnny retired, the Sanderses had a satellite dish and Dave could always find a game to settle down with. Linda waited for him upstairs. Out of the blue, just a few weeks before the prom, he decided to update his image. He was forty-seven--time for a change. He surprised Linda in a pair of wire-rimmed glasses, the first big fashion statement of his life. He'd picked them out himself. "Woo-woo!" she howled. She had never seen a Dave like this before! He was so proud of those glasses. "I finally made it to 1999," he said. The big debut came Easter Sunday. He showed up in the glasses at a boisterous family gathering with the grandkids. Nobody noticed. Alone with Linda that evening, he confessed how badly it hurt. Dave was planning more changes: No basketball camp this summer. Less coaching, more time with his own girls and his grandkids. There was still time to set it right. He was trying a new bedtime drink, too: Diet Coke and rum. The Sunday before the prom, the family threw a birthday party for Angela's four-year-old, Austin. Dave liked making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the grandkids. He sliced off the edges, because they liked it fluffy all the way through. Dave would hide a gummi worm in the jelly, which surprised them every time. Austin called to talk to Grandpa on prom weekend but missed him. Dave called back and left a message on the machine. Angela erased it. She would try again during the week. ____ Prom was scheduled for April 17, but for most kids, it was the culmination of a long, painful dance stretching back to midwinter. Night after night, Patrick Ireland had lain on his bed, phone in one hand, a ball in the other, tossing it up and snatching it out of the air, wishing his best friend, Laura, would take the hint. He kept prodding her about her prospects. Any ideas? Anybody ask yet? She tossed the questions back: Who you going to ask? When? What are you waiting for? Indecision was unfamiliar ground for Patrick. He competed in basketball and baseball for Columbine and earned first place medals in waterskiing while earning a 4.0 average. He kept his eye on the ball. When his team was down five points in the final minutes of a basketball game, and he'd just miss an easy layup or dribbled off his foot and felt like a loser, the answer was simple: Brush it off! If you wanted to win, you focused on the next play. With Laura, he couldn't focus on anything. Patrick was modest but self-assured with regard to most things. This mattered too much. He couldn't risk fourth grade again. Laura had been his first love, his first girlfriend, in third grade. It was a torrid romance, but it ended badly and she wouldn't speak to him the next year. It took them until high school to become friends again. For a while, it was friendship, but then his pulse started racing. Had he been right about her the first time? Surely she felt it, too. Unless he was imagining it. No, she was flirting, totally. Flirting enough? Laura grew impatient. It wasn't just prom night at stake, it was weeks of planning, dress shopping, accessorizing, endless conversations to risk being excluded. The sad looks, the pity--a full season of awkwardness. She got another offer. She stalled for time, then, finally, accepted. The guy was way into her. So Patrick asked Cora, just as friends. His whole group was going as friends. No pressure, just a good time. Prom night arrived. Most groups turned it into a twelve-hour affair: photos, fine dining, the dance, the afterprom. Patrick's gang started at Gabriel's, an old Victorian home in the country that had been converted into an elegant steak and seafood house. They pulled up in a limo and ate like kings. Then it was a long ride into Denver for the big event. The prom committee chose the Denver Design Center, a local landmark known as "that building with the weird yellow thing." The "thing" was a monumental steel sculpture called The Articulated Wall, which looked like an eighty-five-foot DNA strand and towered over the shops and restaurants converted from old warehouses. The trade-off with a famous city location was space. You could barely move on the dance floor. Patrick Ireland's second-most-memorable moment was dancing to "Ice Ice Baby." He had lip-synced to it in a third-grade talent show, so whenever they'd heard it for the next decade, he'd grabbed his buddies and performed the same goofy dance. That was nothing compared to holding Laura. He got one dance. A slow song. Heaven. ____ Cassie Bernall was not asked to prom. She was pretty but, in her estimation, a loser. The church boys from the youth group barely noticed her. At school she got attention, but strictly sexual. Friends were hard to come by. So she and her friend Amanda dressed up anyway, did their hair, and got all glamorous for a work banquet Amanda's mom had going at the Marriott. Then they cruised to afterprom, where dates were optional, and partied till dawn.