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Columbine survivor chooses 'to be a victor'

The rescue of “the boy in the window,” shown in an image from TV, grabbed the attention of horrified viewers nationwide on the tragic day of April 20, 1999, in Littleton, Colo.

Associated Press

The rescue of “the boy in the window,” shown in an image from TV, grabbed the attention of horrified viewers nationwide on the tragic day of April 20, 1999, in Littleton, Colo.

LITTLETON, Colo. — The "boy in the window" — who fell bloodied and paralyzed into the arms of rescuers during the horrifying Columbine High shooting rampage — is doing just fine.

Now 27, Patrick Ireland has regained mobility with few lingering effects from gunshot wounds to his head and leg a decade ago. He is married and works in the financial services industry. His mantra: "I choose to be a victor rather than a victim."

Just after 11 a.m. on April 20, 1999 — 10 years ago today — Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, stormed the suburban school, killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding about two dozen.

In the second-floor library, Ireland was about to finish some homework when he heard pipe bombs exploding in the hallway. Debris fell from the ceiling and a teacher shouted for students to take cover.

Klebold and Harris strode in, shouted for students to stand up, laughing and ridiculing classmates as they sprayed bullets.

Ireland was under a table with Dan Steepleton and Makai Hall when they were shot in the knees. Ireland was shot twice in the head and once in a leg, and lost consciousness.

The killers shot out a library window.

Harris and Klebold killed 10 students in the library before they left to reload, which gave some survivors a chance to flee.

Steepleton and Hall tried to pull Ireland but couldn't move him far before they fled for safety.

Shortly before noon, the gunmen returned to the library and committed suicide.

Ireland awoke some time later, his vision blurred. With fire alarms sounding and strobe lights flashing, the partly paralyzed teen began to push himself to the bullet-shattered window.

Over the next three hours — it took SWAT team members hours to reach all the victims, moving methodically room by room — he pulled his body along, losing and regaining consciousness. He moved through tables and chairs and past classmates' bodies. He figures he traveled about 50 feet to the window.

"I thought how much easier it would be just to give up, stay there and let somebody come get you or whatever would happen to you," Ireland said.

"But every time those thoughts came in my mind, I thought about all the people that I would be giving up on. … It was really the friends and family I would be letting down that kept me going."

Ireland pushed himself up to the window and got the attention of SWAT teams below. He doesn't recall flopping over the sill and dropping into the arms of rescuers, the image that grabbed the attention of TV viewers nationwide.

Since then, Ireland has endured grueling therapy to regain the use of his legs, and he had to relearn how to read, write and talk.

With a control-your-destiny determination, he graduated as valedictorian from Columbine and magna cum laude from Colorado State University. Today, he is a field director for Northwestern Mutual Finance Network in the Denver area. He and his wife, Kacie, have been married for nearly four years.

Ireland recognizes he'll long be remembered as the face of Columbine because of his dramatic rescue. He accepts it as a way to emphasize that Columbine should be another word for "hope and courage."

And how does he want to be remembered?

"A triumphant recovery and success story."

Columbine survivor chooses 'to be a victor' 04/19/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 20, 2009 9:04am]
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