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Columbine Athlete Hangs Himself

May 6, 2000

LITTLETON, Colo. (AP) _ Five Columbine High basketball players gathered on a home patio court to shoot hoops as they struggled to grasp why their close friend and teammate committed suicide.

Junior Greg Barnes, 17, who lost one of his best friends and saw a teacher die in last year’s Columbine bloodbath, hanged himself Thursday while classmates went to school, said neighbor Leonard Purer.

``I do not know if Columbine caused this, but I do know he was upset by it. All the students were upset by it,″ said Purer, who has known the family for nine years.

A CD, set to replay continuously, blasted a song by the group Blink 182 with the lyrics, ``You’ll be sorry when I’m gone,″ and ``I never thought I’d die alone,″ said teammate David Mitchell, an exchange student from Melbourne, Australia.

``I talked to him the night before, and it didn’t seem like anything was wrong,″ he said Friday as he took a break from the game on teammate Brian Deidel’s court. ``We talked about the usual stuff, girls.″

Deidel, also a childhood friend of Barnes, said, ``I just didn’t believe it. It was horrible. It made me mad. Mad at Greg.″

Grief counselors cautioned against automatically linking Barnes’ death to the Columbine shootings, noting teen-agers cope with a great deal of pressure. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24.

Barnes’ death came just two weeks after the anniversary of the massacre. It was the second suicide among friends or relatives of the victims since October, and the latest in a series of tragedies that have sent the Columbine community reeling.

Investigators would not say whether Barnes left a note and gave no additional details. Six counselors came to Columbine Friday, and substitute teachers were on call to fill in for staff members who wanted to stay home, said Jefferson County School District spokesman Rick Kaufman. Many students skipped school.

``It’s a somber mood at Columbine High School,″ said Kaufman, who declined to give details about the death.

The sheriff’s office and the Jefferson County coroner also declined to provide details. ``Some things should remain confidential to the family,″ Coroner Nancy Bodelson said.

On April 20, 1999, two teen-age gunmen killed 12 Columbine classmates and a teacher and wounded 23 people before committing suicide in the worst school shooting rampage in U.S. history.

Barnes was in a science room when the gunmen opened fire. He told Sports Illustrated he saw teacher Dave Sanders ``take two shots, right in front of me″ as he watched the rampage through a window in the door. Barnes was also a good friend of victim Matt Kechter.

``Matt always waited by the mailbox for his little brother to come home from school,″ Barnes told The Associated Press after the shooting. ``He was the most innocent person I knew.″

Since the massacre, most in the Columbine community have lived with grief as a constant companion.

``I do not know if Columbine caused this, but I do know he was upset by it. All the students were upset by it,″ Purer said.

The mother of Anne Marie Hochhalter, a student paralyzed in the shooting, walked into a pawnshop in October, asked to see a gun, loaded it and shot herself to death. On Valentine’s Day, two Columbine sweethearts were shot to death in a sandwich shop.

At a bagel shop near the school Friday, C.J. Reeh, 72, and his wife, Irene, stared in disbelief at newspaper accounts of Barnes’ death.

``I don’t know what to think. We thought it would be the last when the mother shot herself. We don’t know what’s going to be next,″ said C.J. Reeh.

The 6-foot-3 Barnes, who averaged 26.2 points a game in the season that ended in March, had drawn interest from several universities, including Harvard, Yale and Notre Dame.

He scored 31 points in Columbine’s loss during the state quarterfinal playoff game in March. The Denver Post and the Denver Rocky Mountain News named him to their all-state teams, and Barnes would have been the top player in the state next year, according to two coaches whose teams played Columbine.

``I never thought Greg was the kind of person who would do something like this. He had everything going for him,″ said Jason Brehm, 17, a junior who shared a history class with Barnes.

``He wasn’t the real typical jock who would throw the little guy around. He didn’t try to be the best at everything, except basketball.″

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