Victim's Parents Celebrate a Life
A four-part series about a Colorado family whose only son was murdered in the Columbine High School shootings, coverage that explored the long-term effects through survivors in Peducah and Jonesboro. Originally published in the Denver Post in June, 1999.
Peace comes slowly and surely to the Mausers.
Tom and Linda Mauser were on their way to the cemetery to bury their only son when something jolted them out of their numbness.
The morning was cold and rainy, less than a week after Daniel - innocent, gentle, shy Daniel - was killed at Columbine High School. As the funeral procession rounded a corner on C-470, the sun poked through the clouds and spotlighted a grassy area on the east side of the highway.
There they were: deer. A whole herd of them. In the middle stood a buck with majestic antlers. They must have crossed the busy highway to get there. It was as if they were looking at the Mausers.
"We are not people who have to see miracles to have faith," Tom says. "But to see deer, given Daniel's innocence and gentleness - to be a herd like that, it was amazing. It really told us that Daniel was in a better place. God took him by the hand and he was OK.''
The Mausers have held onto moments like those as they have felt their way through the painful blur of the past seven weeks, since the day two suicidal classmates of Daniel's turned Columbine into the site of the worst school shooting in U.S. history.
Their struggle to inch toward healing and forgiveness - he through public political activism and she through private mourning - is emblematic of the different ways a heartbroken community is learning to cope with the April 20 tragedy.
Shortly after his son's death, Tom emerged as a national figure, a crusader for gun-control policies. While other families withdrew, Tom took his cause to the steps of the state Capitol and the White House, carrying a sign with Daniel's boyish face on it. "My son Daniel died at Columbine. He'd expect me to be here today," the sign read.
Tom rallied to close loopholes in gun laws during the National Rifle Association's May 1 convention in Denver, and his emotional speech was televised around the world. With first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at his side in Washington, he told America on the eve of Mother's Day: "Enough is enough." When Colorado's two U.S. senators voted against gun-control laws five days later, Tom picketed outside their offices, carrying the sign with his son's picture, now with new words: "Shame on you, Sen. Allard. Shame on you, Sen. Campbell."
Though many Americans wrote the Mausers with their prayers and condolences, a few accused Tom of being a publicity-seeking zealot, a pawn of anti-gun forces. One irate gun owner phoned the Mausers' 13-year-old daughter, Christie.
The Mausers, both 47, were worried about the family's safety. But Tom persisted.
"It was difficult because we're still grieving," he says.
"But it was something I had to do."
Linda supported Tom's activism but grieved more privately. At first she was so shattered she had a hard time getting up in the morning. It took all her strength to comfort her daughter and answer the door as neighbors brought over so many casseroles that a friend had to supply a second refrigerator.
She kept a journal and prayed. She wrote countless thank-you notes to those who donated to Daniel's memorial scholarship fund.
Now she's at a point where she's taking time each day to sort through Daniel's mementos in his bedroom - little bowls he made in preschool, stories he wrote in elementary school, a baby picture of diapered Daniel and his dad wearing Groucho Marx schnozzes. She looks at Daniel's picture every night before she goes to sleep. Often, she cries.
"You try so hard your whole life to protect your kids," Linda says. "We didn't do anything but send him off to school that day. If he'd had a car accident, we would have said, "We should have gotten him more driver's ed. We should have taught him those turns.' I just never conceived that he'd be shot in a library."
Tom gets choked up every time he walks by the family Foosball table. Daniel used to beat him all the time. Daniel knew his dad wasn't much of a challenge, but he was a good sport when his dad asked him for a game.
There are memories everywhere.
"What we have to deal with now is missing him," Tom says.
"It's not anger. It's not questioning God. It's just really, really missing him."