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7,000 Attend Last Columbine Funeral

April 30, 1999

DENVER (AP) _ To a gospel choir’s spirited melodies, nearly 7,000 mourners bade farewell Thursday to the last of Columbine High’s dead: 4-foot-11 football player Isaiah Shoels, who was two things his killers apparently hated, athletic and black.

Shoels, 18, who was known as ``Little Man″ to friends, was buried in his graduation cap and gown. The three-hour funeral capped a week of mourning the 13 victims of the April 20 shooting, which devastated the Denver suburb of Littleton and shocked the nation.

``This is the last piece. Now the healing begins,″ said the Rev. Larry Russell, executive pastor of Heritage Christian Center. ``I don’t think the healing could begin until today.″

Shoels was an outgoing young man with an easy smile. He wanted to become a music executive. He was an accomplished athlete who could bench press twice his weight.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine gunmen, sought out athletes to kill, and some witnesses said they also targeted Shoels because he was black. That prompted Shoels’ father, Michael, to note that the young man ``had two strikes against him.″

Michael Shoels and Isaiah’s mother, Vonda, embraced and shivered as the lid of his silver casket was closed.

``When does this stop? When does it end?″ said William Collins, Isaiah’s grandfather. ``I’m tired of laying to rest politicians, engineers, athletes, musicians, artists, janitors and sanitation haulers who are robbed of reaching their potential.″

Nick Foss, an 18-year-old Columbine senior who was hurt slightly in the attack, was at the service with his twin, Adam. They said they used to call Shoels ``Little Man.″

``He’s smiling down on us,″ Nick Foss said. ``I know he is.″

Many in the crowd appeared exhausted.

``I’ve never even come close to seeing this grief in the eyes and lives of the families of these teen-agers who were so full of life,″ said the Rev. Billy Epperhart, who presided over four of the funerals over the past week.

By the thousands, people have come to service after service, packing pews and sharing tears to say goodbye to one, three, even five friends _ more funerals in a week than some people attend in years.

They said farewell to the beloved business teacher and to the avid Denver Broncos fan, to the actress who was trying to quit smoking and to the kid who wanted to fly F-16s.

``I didn’t have the privilege of knowing Isaiah. And I didn’t know the boy that we buried yesterday or the child that we buried on Tuesday and Monday or Sunday or Saturday. But I do know that these were good children,″ Gov. Bill Owens said. ``If there’s anything good that can come from this, it’s that it’s bringing Colorado and this nation together.″

Sam Riddle, the Shoels family spokesman, expressed appreciation ``to the community and the world for opening up their hearts.″

Shoels, who wanted to attend an arts college after graduation in May, suffered health problems as a child and had heart surgery twice. Classmates enjoyed him so much that they competed to work with him on group assignments, Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis said.

``If Isaiah was in the cafeteria, there was a group of people around Isaiah. People wanted to be around Isaiah,″ DeAngelis said. ``Isaiah Shoels, thank you for having such a positive impact on our school and on our family. You will be greatly missed, and I love you, my dear child.″

On April 20, Shoels and other students were in the library when gunmen burst into the room.

A witness said one of the killers turned their attention to Shoels, saying ``I hate niggers,″ then firing three times.

The funeral program quoted Shoels’ last conversation with his mother on the morning of his death.

``Do I look nice today?″ he asked.

She told him: ``You look as good as gold.″

Then he left.

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