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Columbine High School opened in 1973 with a capacity for 1,652 students. It was named after the surrounding community of Columbine, which in turn was named after the state flower of Colorado: the columbine. The school's first principal was Gerald Difford. There was no senior class during the school's first year; its first graduating class was in 1975. The school colors were selected through a vote by students at Ken Caryl Junior High School and Bear Creek High School, who were the first to attend Columbine High School when it opened in 1973.
The school has undergone significant renovations since it first opened: in 1995, with the addition of a new cafeteria and library; in 1999-2000 (after the massacre), with interior renovations to the corridors, cafeteria, and former library; and in the early 2000s, with the addition of the new HOPE Columbine Memorial Library and a memorial on the site.
Columbine High School was the site of one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern United States history. The shootings occurred on April 20, 1999, when senior students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed twelve students and a teacher, and wounded 24 others, before they both committed suicide. The massacre made headlines both nationally and internationally, making Columbine a household name, and causing a moral panic in U.S. high schools. It was the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history until February 14, 2018, when 17 people were killed in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
After the shooting, classes at Columbine were held at nearby Chatfield Senior High for the remaining three weeks of that school year.
The school went through a major renovation in 1995, just four years before the massacre, adding a new library and cafeteria. After the shootings, Columbine completely demolished its library, located above the cafeteria, since it was the site where the majority of the deaths occurred. The site was then turned into a memorial ceiling and atrium; a new, larger library was built on the hill where the shooting began and dedicated to the memory of the victims.
By 2019, the school remained a "macabre tourist attraction" for those fascinated by the massacre, with hundreds stopped annually caught trespassing on the grounds or trying to enter the buildings. In June 2019, the superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools proposed tearing down the school and rebuilding it more securely to lessen its "morbid fascination".
Its attendance zone includes the Columbine CDP.